Five University of Findlay students help FBI solve cold cases in Detroit

By: Addy Hankins

UF students helped FBI, Operation UNITED, identify missing persons

Several University of Findlay students got the rare opportunity to work with the FBI in Detroit last summer.

“It was awesome,” said Alicyn McClish, senior Forensic Biology student at the University of Findlay. “They didn’t treat us like kids.”

McClish was one of the five students who spent three days with the FBI and worked with anthropology to excavate human remains.

The project was called Operation Unknown Names Identified Through Exhumation and DNA or UNITED. It was in collaboration with the FBI, Detroit Police Department, National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs, along with other local law enforcement agencies. Operation UNITED has identified nine people through 124 exhumations, so far.

Dr. Jaymelee Kim, Associate Professor of Forensic Science at the University of Findlay, worked as an anthropologist from the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office on the project.

“I really respect what they’re doing, going and getting DNA samples from cold cases,” Kim said.

Wayne County alone contains 70% of the cold cases in Michigan, which is where the project took place. Detroit, the county seat, is located just under two hours from Findlay.

“The people who are doing it really want to be there and be helping, so overall it’s been a pretty positive experience,” said Kim.

Operation UNITED is a  project that exhumes individuals and is similar to Operation Identification which originated from Texas State University,

Operation UNITED involved many different types of workers for the students to observe. The FBI’s Evidence Response Team (ERT) was there along with anthropologists.

“Students got to learn about the different types of positions within the FBI,” Kim said.

Kim describes the forensics program at UF as pretty rigorous. Forensic students must take about 88 course credits alone, without adding in general education classes. Students also must take several laboratory classes at the same time.

Krissy Johnson, Senior Forensic Biology student at the University of Findlay, was another student who helped with the operation. Johnson has also worked in a clinical pathology laboratory.

“[The Forensics program is] pretty tough,” Johnson said. “Science in itself is hard but it’s also a small program, so you have to be really careful when you are scheduling your classes because they’re only offered like once every two years.”

McClish started out as a Pre-Veterinarian major but switched to Forensic Biology.

“(It) encompassed the aspects of criminal justice that I liked but also had all the science that I loved too from the Animal Science program,” McClish said.

McClish said that she grew up watching all the crime shows but she never thought she would go to school for it. Johnson also said that she too watched shows like “Forensic Files” growing up and she thought forensics was an interesting topic from a young age.

But both stress that their real life work is nothing like TV shows such as CSI.

“Everyone always asks me if I’m Abby from NCIS,” McClish said. “No. That’s not how it works. We concentrate on one specific aspect of the forensics work such as bones or fluid.”

“And testing takes way longer,” Johnson added. “You can’t just plug in a finger print and immediately get results.”

To learn more about the Forensic Science Program at the University of Findlay, visit the program webpage.

Featured photo credit: FBI Detroit Twitter account.

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