Police lights were flashing and yellow crime tape was ubiquitous at West High School Monday, when a veteran social studies teacher was found with a bullet hole in his forehead.
In reality, teacher Steve Houle remains alive, but his staged execution-style murder will capture the energies of about 100 students over the next three weeks, who will try to use everything from crime scene investigation-type forensic techniques to a mock trial to determine who did him in.
The effort involves:
. Criminal-justice students, who gathered evidence at the scene Monday and will try to put the pieces together and arrest a suspect.
. Bio-technology students, who will test DNA representative samples of the evidence gathered at the crime scene.
. Acting students, who will play the roles of witnesses and murder suspects.
. Art students, who will draw artist renderings of suspects, based on witness statements.
. English class, which will publish newspaper accounts about the crime and investigation.
. Video production class, which will produce newscasts and a crime-show drama.
. Law class, whose members will prosecute, defend and judge a suspect.
"For my students, it's all about taking the learning out of the classroom," Tina Mulleavey, a social-studies teacher who teaches the senior elective crime and justice at West and coordinated the effort. "They get to see what it's really like, a real hands-on example of what we teach."
Both Manchester police officers and firefighters took part in the event.
Houle was found sprawled on an office chair in Room 122, which is usually used as a detention room. A school produced video, available at west.mansd.org, shows the seemingly lifeless victim with a mangled front skull and blood splatter on the behind him.
The video showed street drugs that were found on the table next to him.
Students will have to gather evidence, analyze it, question suspects and build a case. The mock trial won't take place until early May.
"You just don't solve the crime overnight," Mullheavey said.
Also participating were Manchester police officers and firefighters, AMR Ambulance and the New Hampshire Medical Examiner's Office.
Capt. Nick Willard, who heads up the Manchester police detectives, took part in the morning's events.
Willard expects the class will learn a great deal about crime scene investigations, as well as career options in the field of crime fighting.
"She's teaching them real-life, crime techniques," Willard said.
Mullheavey said students were notified last week that a drill would be taking place at the school on Monday in order to prevent panic any when they arrived to school.