Rundown house on East Campus helps forensics students get hands-on training

LINCOLN, Neb. - If you drive down Leighton Ave., you probably don't even notice there is a house among the University's fields.

The rundown property has been empty for years, and from the outside, looks like something you might see in a horror movie. But that's perfect for the University of Nebraska Forensics Department.

"The space is limited only by our imagination," said Dr. Michael Adamowicz, a professor in the department.

Looking at this house, you have to use your imagination to see what Dr. Adamowicz sees. The windows are broken, doors are falling apart, and the yard is littered with broken glass.

But when he looks at this abandoned house, Dr. Adamowicz sees opportunity for his students.

"This gives them a very immersive realistic setting because for all intents and purposes, it is realistic," Adamowicz said.

Since the house had been abandoned for years, it isn't deemed safe for students to use yet. Crews are currently making repairs, so for now, students use the outside of the house as well as the property to learn how to process crime scenes.

"It's really the perfect place to stage crime scenes because it has been part of crime scenes before," Adamowicz said. "Before we fenced it in, we had a lot of people break in, some vandalism, and homeless people and transients stay here. Lots of drug use. Not the best place to be."

Now that the property has been renovated, students use the property to learn how to measure bullet trajectory, dust fingerprints and dig up shallow graves.

Students say what they do is not exactly like what you see on television.

"It's a lot more work than you think it will be," said forensic student Mckenzy Peterson. "On t.v. you might see them do this crime scene within ten minutes but we were out here for weeks just digging up one mock grave scene."

Students work on the property year round, in all weather conditions.

"In a classroom, everything is a perfect temperature environment and that's not the case in real life," Adamowicz said. "Crimes happen in every season, in every condition. They happen day or night and the students come back understanding some of the challenges they'll be faced with in the real world."

Adamowicz says when the house is completely renovated, students will be able to use it for blood splatter analysis and exploring evidence that might not be obvious.

"In a real house, you can hide evidence in closets, in drawers, all kinds of places and we want them to learn to really look for stuff because it won't always be right in front of their face," Adamowicz said.

Students say they're grateful for the opportunity to get their hands dirty.

"Everything we learn out here, we'll definitely be able to take those skills and apply them in our future careers and say that we had this hands on experience before we actually start," Peterson said.