Forensics students get real life lesson at coroner’s office

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LACOMBE, La. (WGNO) -- Television crime shows like NCIS New Orleans are a big crowd pleaser.  How many of us watch the shows and wonder what it would be like to really work on a forensic investigation?

At Archbishop Hannan High School, the curiosity is leading many students to take the school's elective class on forensic investigations.  They learn about things like how to preserve evidence at crime scenes and what bone structure can tell you about a victim's sex and race.

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Dr. Charles Preston, St. Tammany Coroner, speaks with forensics students from Hannan High School during a recent tour of the coroner's office.

But recently, the lesson moved from the classroom to the real deal at the Saint Tammany Parish Coroner's Office.  The forensic students got a lot more than a tour of the state-of-the-art facility; they got to see how investigators work.

"That's just a great thing when a young person can find out their passion and work toward it," said the Coroner, Dr. Charles Preston.

The tour brought the students inside the refrigeration area where they could see body bags containing the recently deceased.  During another part of the tour, investigators brought out real human remains from a recent investigation and spoke with the students about how they reached their conclusions.

For the students, the tour is a chance to compare what they see on TV with the real thing.  But after the real body parts were revealed, students wondered if any of them would be heading for the doors.

Not one did.

For senior Julianna Puipuro, the all-access tour only reinforced her desire to go into the forensics field.

"I definitely want to go into some sort of forensic center because I'm absolutely in love with the whole field," Puipuro said at the end of the day.  "Because a lot of things you see on TV and stuff, you don't know if that's actually the way it works in real life."

Another senior, Brendan Townsley, also talked about how the tour separated real life from the fiction he sees on TV.

"I guess you could say that was one of the things.  I took the course to see really how it is instead of all the stuff they throw on TV," he said.

As for continuing his ambitions after seeing body bags and human remains, Townsley was unflinching.  "So just seeing this and seeing that I'm not, like, disgusted or scared of it, makes it a little bit easier definitely to see a career path."

Dr. Preston says other north shore schools want to send their students on the tour.  He says one of the schools has so many, the student may have to be divided into groups.

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