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Learning from the lab: High School students glean drug prevention tips from OCSD

Slides from the murder scene flipped onto the screen – one grotesque shot after another.

The students briefed on the infamous 2005 “Fortune Teller Murders” weren’t fazed by the blood-soaked and paint-splashed scene; they leaned in.

They learned about the complexities of processing the detailed scene and how forensic scientists played a critical role in building a case that led to the arrest of a North Carolina couple who murdered a Westminster fortune teller and her daughter after receiving a less-than-ideal reading from the clairvoyant.  (I’ll link to story on this case.)

These 40 students from three Orange County high schools visited the Crime Lab and Coroner Division on Friday, March 1, for a behind-the-scenes look at the function of these two busy divisions of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

A play-by-play of how forensic scientists, for 21 hours, processed the scene in which the suspects stabbed the mother and daughter multiple times and then covered them with different types of white paint showcased the importance of meticulous evidence collection and thorough processing skills.

This presentation was billed as a reward for students from Capistrano Valley, San Clemente, and Santa Margarita high schools who have volunteered throughout the school year for the department’s “Next Step” program, which empowers high school students to become stewards of drug-prevention messaging to younger students.

The students were treated to an inside look of the Crime Lab, seeing first-hand how toxicology works and how certain types of evidence are processed. Then, after a lunch of pizza and potato chips, the students made their way to the Coroner Division.

“This is a reward for them, but it’s more than that,” said Deputy Chris Anderson, who runs the Next Step program. “The students will be able to learn information from our Crime Lab and Coroner that will help with their drug prevention education.”

Next Step empowers high school students to teach middle schoolers about choosing a drug-free lifestyle. The program is run similar to a school club that meets during lunch periods to discuss curriculum and best ways to reach the next generation of high schoolers who will face an unprecedented amount of peer pressure.

“This group is the most diverse group of students you probably will ever find at a school club,” Anderson said. “I have Varsity athletes, dancers, artists and theater kids. They all have chosen to live drug-free and all for different reasons.” 

Next Step currently is on campus at Capistrano Valley, San Clemente and Santa Margarita high schools. To learn more about Next Step visit