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Published: Thursday, 10/25/2007

Forensic scientist gives teens a heads up

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Julie Mather Saul, left, talks to Wauseon High School juniors Molly Merillat, Sabrina Kessler, Lexi Pflager, and Amanda Lee Rabender. Julie Mather Saul, left, talks to Wauseon High School juniors Molly Merillat, Sabrina Kessler, Lexi Pflager, and Amanda Lee Rabender.
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High school teachers, take note: Nothing holds the attention of today's teenager quite like a bashed-in skull.

More than 200 teenagers were mesmerized yesterday by forensic anthropologist Julie Saul's hour-long tales of the dead and the images that illustrated her talk during the annual Forensic Medical Sciences Day.

Just before lunch, Mrs. Saul - half of a world-renowned forensic anthropologist team with her husband, Frank - spoke of the scientific satisfaction of her work and the thrill of discovery that comes from identifying the fate of lost loved ones from whatever is left of their remains.

To illustrate her point, she used 10-foot-tall photographs of a human skull that lost a decisive battle with the business end of a blue baseball bat.

"Look at this fracture here, where these radial fractures end. Look how it's going the other way," Mrs. Saul explained to her students-for-a-day at the Dana Conference Center on the University of Toledo health science campus.

"Why is that important? What does that tell us?"

High school-aged hands shot up in the darkened theater.

"That's correct. This wound occurred first, so that tells us that the victim's head was against something hard, like the ground, when it was struck. And that was important for the investigation," Mrs. Saul said.

For more than two decades, the Sauls; Dr. James Patrick, Lucas County coroner, and other area medical detectives have shared their work with high school students interested in medicine, science, and forensics.

The annual program began to open thousands of young minds to the drama of scientific discovery long before it was cool, and at a time when about the only pathology on television was a guy named Quincy.

Some students over the years have been grossed out by the images of corpses, some in various stages of decomposition.

But most have left fascinated by the subject matter and the generosity of the experts sharing their experiences.

"For me, it's hard to be grossed out at stuff. The medical field has always interested me," 17-year-old Brandi Brodine of Findlay said.

She said she was fascinated by the presentations.

"I think it's interesting that they can connect all these bones and go back so many years," said 18-year-old Amber Shanks, of Malinta, Ohio, who is studying at Four County Career Center, Archbold, Ohio, to be an emergency medical technician.

"A couple of the images were pretty gruesome. But I'm looking into the medical field, so I figured I had to get used to it," said 16-year-old Catie Carroll, a student at St. Ursula Academy.

It wasn't all blood-and-guts for the students, however.

Several FBI special agents assigned to the bureau's evidence response team were on hand to show off some of the tools of their investigative trade.

Students toured a trailer and incident response vehicle used by FBI agents to secure and process crime scenes.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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