Symes lends trauma expertise to
investigation of New Jersey slayings

Authorities from Newark, N.J., have enlisted the expertise of Mercyhurst College forensic anthropologist Steven Symes, Ph.D., in investigating one of the most brutal crimes in the city’s history.

Six suspects were arrested in recent months for the execution-style slayings of three friends in Newark last summer, a crime that rocked Newark and focused national attention on the city’s escalating gun violence.

Medical Examiner Investigator Gina Hart of the New Jersey State Medical Examiner’s Office, and Michael Bozsolak, a detective with the Crime Scene Unit of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, were on the Mercyhurst campus last week to meet with Symes, a leading expert on sharp force trauma.

The killings occurred Aug. 4 when two students at Delaware State University, Terrance Aeriel, 18, and Dashon Harvey, 20, along with Iofemi Hightower, 20, were gunned down on the playground of a Newark elementary school. Aeriel’s 19-year-old sister, Natasha, also a Delaware State student, was shot in the head but survived and was able to help authorities identify some of the suspects. During the commission of the crime, a knife of some kind was used, authorities said.

Hart personally delivered to Mercyhurst a bone specimen from one of the murder victims in hopes that Symes’ analysis of the cut marks could identify the class of sharp-bladed implement used to inflict them.

Symes’ specialty is skeletal trauma, and he is most sought after for his expertise in sharp force trauma. Since 2005, he has been under contract with the medical examiner’s office in Newark for “tool mark analysis.”

During his career, Symes has provided analysis of cut marks in roughly 200 dismemberment cases and 500 knife wound cases throughout the country, and is frequently called to testify on his findings.

The New Jersey case represents one of many for which the Department of Applied Forensic Sciences at Mercyhurst, headed by forensic anthropologist Dennis Dirkmaat, Ph.D., is called upon to lend its expertise. In 2006, the department, assisted in the death investigation – everything from outdoor recovery to tool mark interpretation in the lab – of 100 cases from throughout the United States.

Released on Monday, December 3, 2007


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