NCIS holds training on hidden graves, human remains recovery for local law enforcement

NCIS training (Source: Live 5)
NCIS training (Source: Live 5)

GOOSE CREEK, SC (WCSC) - Investigators and detectives with local law enforcement agencies are fine tuning their skills through a hands-on training seminar with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Tuesday.

The NCIS hosted a clandestine grave and human remains recovery training on the Naval Weapons Station.

Employees from the North Charleston, Goose Creek, and Hanahan Police Departments along with the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, Berkeley County Sheriff's Office and Berkeley County Coroner's Office took part in the training.

"We're looking at fine tuning their skills," said Dana Shutt, Supervisor and Special Agent for the NCIS Resident Agency, Charleston. "Joint Base Charleston is a very unique base in that it's multi-jurisdictional… We need to be able to train together in order to better work with our partners."

Instructors said when a clandestine, or hidden/secret grave is found, often times skeletal remains are removed before the scene is thoroughly processed and documented. This can lead to the loss of critical evidence.

The training is designed to enhance investigators skills and look at all angles of the case.

In order to make the training as real as possible, they used pigs to serve as a human body.

"Pigs give us a better idea about human decomposition and bug activity," Shutt said.

After a brief classroom lesson Tuesday morning, the "students" headed out into the woods to get their hands-on experience.

The investigators and detectives were broken up into three groups to analyze and find the three different crime scenes, all while cross training with different agencies.

"It's a refresher type of thing," said NCIS investigator Anthony Rivera. "There are little tricks of the trade, so to speak, that each of us always learns... So we get to blend the training together to figure out what works best."

"They're locating the grave probing the earth to find the soft spots," Shutt said. "Then they're going to map it out, photograph it, document it, sketch it, and then layer by layer they're going to sift through the dirt and find evidence."

Shutt said two pigs were buried in the second week of October in preparation for the training. Last week another pig was placed above ground.

"We're noticing that there's no trauma on the ribs," an NCIS instructor said. "So there's no broken ribs or anything like that."

The pig above ground had noticeable decomposition to its body. Parts of the ribs could be seen, and the trainees in the course collected flies and bees which were swarming the body.

"They're going to talk about how to process that evidence," Shutt said. "What lab they need to send it to and then what kind of analysis to request. Then bagging and tagging that evidence in order to be processed further."

Instructors said evidence collection takes time, and they have to be very precise about what they do.

"It's a very long process," Rivera said. "Just the probing and finding where the remains are at can take a long time."

"It's not like the TV shows, CSI and everything," said Teela Antwine, an Investigations Sergeant with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office. "It takes times. It will help show them that everything is not solved in 48 hours."

Antwine said most of the training she gets is done in the classroom.

"I think this hands-on experience has helped us... a lot of people learn better when you're actually doing it," she said.

Those who took part in the training are expected to receive a certificate by NCIS at the end of the day.

Shutt said this is the first year NCIS has hosted this type of training, and they hope to hold this annually.

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