CHARLESTON, W.Va.– Hundreds of forensic investigators are in Charleston this week for the annual Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiner’s six-day conference taking place at the Civic Center.
The AFTE is an international professional organization whose members consist of forensic investigators who work with firearm and/or tool mark identification in crimes. There are four of these specialized examiners in the state of West Virginia, but this week those four will be joined by hundreds of other investigators and others who work in their field.
“We have 528 attendees from all over the world from 24 different countries here, present in Charleston, West Virginia,” Calissa Carper said. Carper is the conference’s host committee chair and is a firearm and tool mark examiner who works at the State Police Crime Lab in South Charleston.
Carper worked with the rest of the host committee to pitch a bid for Charleston as the conference’s location three years ago and won.
The seminar was started in 1969 and is held in cities throughout the United States. This year, there are 46 workshops for firearm and tool mark examiners to attend as well as various presentations and speakers who have worked forensics cases from around the world.
“Today we’re going to talk about research that is in our field,” Carper said. “So how we perform casework using our microscopes, and how we do determine whether a fired bullet was fired from a firearm, or how a tool mark, that maybe was left at a burglary, can be identified to one particular tool.”
While working in firearms and tool marks is a very specialized branch of forensic science, not all attendees work in the specific field.
“For our conference, we have forensic scientists, law enforcement, crime scene teams. We also have some lawyers, prosecutors, even defense attorneys, but this is not open to the general public just because the sensitive information that we have in cases, there are actual cases that are presented here, as well as information that helps us as forensic scientists that shouldn’t go out to the public,” Carper said.
Working the in firearms and tool marks branch of forensic science brings something different each day for Carper when she heads into work.
“A day in the life of a forensic scientist in the firearms can be anywhere. I can work a shooting scene reconstruction. One day, I’m on a vehicle that is maybe done by a drive by shooting. The next day I can work a shooting that maybe happened in Huntington,” she said.
While forensic science is very interesting, Carper said that it is not actually like what is shown on TV.
“I do work in the lab. I do not go out on the crime scenes,” she said. “Everybody thinks that it’s ‘CSI’. It’s not so much of that. It’s a lot of being on the microscope. Sometimes we can spend hours on the microscope looking at bullets and cartridge cases from crime scenes.”
However, these forensic scientists do not only work with ballistics.
“A lot of people don’t realize that we can do tool mark cases, so those that maybe cut padlocks off of storage units and steal property. That’s something that we can do just as matching bullets to guns, we can match tool marks to tools,” Carper said. “So, everyday it’s a different type of case that we work within firearm and tool marks.”
The AFTE conference will continue throughout the week until Friday.
Story by Jordyn Johnson