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MS coroners learn latest death investigation techniques from Texas Body Farm

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 6:26 PM CST
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FLOWOOD, Miss. (WLBT) - From gunshots wounds to COVID deaths, coroners must be able to examine and identify the reason why the resident in their county lost their life.

County medical examiners and coroners are taking forensics classes, earning the educational training required to answer that next call.

Thursday was day two of the Mississippi Coroners and Medical Examiners Association conference, covering human versus non-human bone identification.

Coroners and deputy coroners from across the state are learning the latest in forensic investigations from scientists with Texas State University Freeman Ranch Body Farm.

“My community, probably the biggest problem that we have right now is a drug epidemic, the fentanyl, the heroin, the meth,” said Pearl River County Coroner Derek Turnage.

His county has a population of about 55,000 residents, and he sees the training as invaluable.

“We’ve got to stay current with the information and the trends that are out there to be able to do our jobs, and conferences like this are critical to that,” said Turnage.

The 26-acre TSU Freeman Ranch Body Farm does research on decomposing bodies with various manners of death. Petra Banks, one of the scientists at the work shop working alongside Shelby Garza, is a forensic anthropologist with the research facility.

Banks earned her Master’s Degree at Mississippi State and is currently working on her Ph. D.

“We can offer a lot of resources for coroners, including things like them sending in pictures so we can help them identify human or non-human,” said Banks. “Also being able to work with them to develop good search and recovery techniques and exhumation techniques.”

Ginger Meriwether is the Tallahatchie County Coroner, a county of about 20,000. She is gaining insight from the human versus non-human session, having taken calls about the discovery of small bones thought to be that of a child but was determined to be a small femur from a cow.

“In my county we have a very small number, so I may work two to three homicides per year,” said Meriweather. “But when I do have one conferences, such as this, they do help with the investigation.”

Hinds County coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart is the MS Coroners & Medical Examiners Association President. The organization meets twice a year to offer coroners and deputy coroners required continuing educational training.

Information beneficial to medical examiners in small counties.

“To have experience and exposure to things that they may not have on a regular basis, but eventually they may have a case that is similar to some of these cases,” said Grisham-Stewart. “The training here is very beneficial particularly to our small counties that don’t have the type of violent crimes that we have, don’t have the number of skeletal remains found. So it’s just an opportunity for them to gain knowledge.”

The three day conference ends Friday.

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