Youngsters opened a classroom door at Crofton Elementary School and entered what appeared to be a crime scene: a masking-tape outline of a body, a hammer, a tennis ball covered with dog hair and a "Caution: Do Not Cross" sign.

They were walking in on a mock incident as part of their weeklong Crime Scene and Chemistry Camp, which introduces rising first- through fifth-graders to the ways that real-life detectives use science to solve crimes.

The camp, held this week, draws students who have interest in mysteries yet are mostly unfamiliar with detective skills.

Said Patrick Miller, a rising third-grader of Crofton, "I signed up because I like to do crime scenes. I like finding the person who did it."

"We talk about different careers that deal with crime scenes, such as forensics," Timothy Marshall Jr., a camp instructor for Mad Science of Central Maryland, which runs the camp. "We talk about careers such as those that deal with identifying the body, such as inspectors and detectives, and what is a policeman's job in a crime scene, as well as paramedics."

The camp is among many in Anne Arundel County offered through Owings Mills-based Mad Science, which conducts similar programs for after-school and preschool classes. Crime Scene and Chemistry Camp was also held in June at Davidsonville Elementary School.

The campers also learned fingerprint dusting by using a mirror, Vaseline and cocoa powder — then they used charts that display types of fingerprints. They used magnifying glasses to explore items up close as well as well as hema sticks, which are coated with a chemical that can detect blood.

"Even though it's science, it's fun in the summer," said Kennedy Hall, a rising fourth-grader from Odenton.

No real blood was detected in the mock crime scene; instructors poured strawberry syrup onto the hammer and other devices regarded as weapons. Marshall made up the victim of the crime, telling campers that it was a school security guard. In a previous camp, he said, the victim was a neighbor's cat.

One camper, Robert Snell of Odenton, gave his campmates subtle hints throughout the day, and ultimately campers discovered that he was the designated perpetrator. Marshall said he chose Robert, a rising first-grader, because the camper was first to arrive for the day.

Said Robert, "I didn't do any of it. He just wanted me to be a bad guy."

The campers were also taught about the human body as well as about cells and molecules.

On Thursday, the campers learned how do distinguish between clear liquids. Seated at two tables, they had to determine the liquids in plastic cups set before them by getting only a whiff of each cup. From lessons they had learned throughout the week about odors, they were able to distinguish among water, alcohol, vinegar and peroxide. They also discovered how those chemicals react to one another.

Ryan Bode, a rising third-grader from Crofton, said, "It's just fun for me because I want to be a scientist when I grow up, so I like doing experiments. I like mixing things together and trying to see what they make."

Marshall said he hopes the students develop an appreciation for the professionals who are involved in solving crimes.

"It never fails; one kid always comes to the end of the camp and says, 'I want to be a police officer,' or 'I want to be the detective,' or 'I want to be the forensic scientist who finds out who killed someone.' I want them to take from the camp, at a young age, something that they know they would like to do," he said.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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