On June 8, a group of students gathered at Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley for an unusual demonstration — a staged school shooting designed to teach them about the criminal justice process and the variety of professionals involved.
The students kept their distance when a man wearing a balaclava ran into the school’s atrium, where he pretended to fire a dummy gun. Four volunteers who acted as victims of the shooting were covered in fake blood. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office swept the room and a team of EMTs responded.
“There are a lot of resources that are coming together, and it’s really in the best interest of the kids,” Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said.
About 50 high school students were treated to an up-close look at law enforcement careers at the CSI Youth Summer Camp held by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office. Over three days, participants from all over the country learned about different aspects of a criminal investigation.
Volkmer said the goal of the program is for students to “understand how the justice system really works” and spark interest in a career in law enforcement.
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The program, which is in its sophomore year, grew out of a forensic science class at Poston Butte that teacher Kayla Kully created.
Kully, whose background is in law enforcement, said her course is a “hands-on” experience for students interested in crime scene investigation. Many of the summer camp participants have taken Kully’s class. The Youth CSI Summer Camp expands the opportunity to learn about forensics for Pinal County students beyond Poston Butte.
The summer camp started on Wednesday with a lesson to show the students the basics of forensics. On Thursday, after the staged shooting, they gathered evidence around the school. Then sheriff’s deputies arrested and questioned a suspect. On the last day of camp, a mock trial was held in Pinal County Superior Court, where some of the students served as attorneys and jurors.
Volkmer said a case of this nature would typically take 18 months to three years to reach trial, but students only had to wait a day for witnesses to take the stand. The accelerated timeline helps participants understand the many responsibilities of a law enforcement career.
“I want kids to walk away and understand all that’s involved before they decide to take on a career like that,” Kully said.
Cody Daer, a youth cadet with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, returned to the summer program this year. It has given him a sense of how law enforcement functions from multiple angles, he said. One day, he said, he sees himself becoming a K-9 officer.
It is the first time that a school shooting has taken place in the camp. Last year the program dealt with a scenario involving gun violence after a drug deal. Kully said the school shooting scenario is relevant to her students, who have regularly participated in active target practice.
“It’s very sensitive to have an active shooter in a school building,” Kully said. “But that’s the reality of 2023.”
While collecting forensic evidence for the trial, the students were able to speak with a licensed counselor, Laura Wood, about what they had just seen and felt. There are many ways traumatic events can affect a person’s daily life, she said.
“You don’t have to have been shot to get the trauma,” Wood said.
On the last day of the program, a student jury found the defendant guilty on all four counts.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Free Pinal County Summer Camp Introduces Teens to Law Enforcement Jobs