Criminal justice students work to solve mysterious death

  • Tags: Academics
Published 02/05/2018
Jemel Townsend presents to Cold Case Institute students

Jemel Townsend presents to Cold Case Institute students

Elgin Community College (ECC), of Elgin, IL, is proud to announce its induction into the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute (CCIRI), a nationwide volunteer network made up of 27 colleges and universities, 600 forensic professionals, and 5,000 students that assist victims' families and law enforcement by working on unsolved homicides, missing persons and kidnapping cases. Through the institute, ECC criminal justice students will work as part of a team to bring resolution to unsolved criminal cases, beginning with the case of Ryan Singleton.

The 24-year-old model and aspiring actor from Georgia was found dead near Death Valley in California in September 2013; two months after he was first reported missing. His case made national headlines as his body was discovered on an unpaved road less than two miles away from the gas station where he was last seen. He was found with several organs missing, including his liver, eyes, and heart, along with some of his ribs. Singleton's cause of death was deemed as “undetermined” by authorities working on his case. Seeking justice for her son, Singleton's mother, Iris Flowers, has been actively working with the CCIRI to find answers that will lead to his case being solved.

The creation of ECC's criminal justice special topics course, which began this spring, allows students to meet as a group weekly throughout the spring 2018 semester to work on the case. The class will utilize Flowers, the network of law enforcement experts, and other resources available through the institute. They will also have access to case evidence, reports, witness accounts, and other documents that may prove vital to solving the case. 

“We are honored to have Elgin Community College join our institute,” said Sheryl McCollum, director of the CCIRI, Atlanta. “Their involvement in the Institute will strengthen the research and investigations as well as bring some needed assistance to families and law enforcement.”

Chief McCollum is a crime analyst, college professor, and founder, and senior director of the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute. McCollum also works as a crime scene investigator for a metro Atlanta police department in Georgia. 

After completing the course, students will have a better understanding of the mind(s) of suspects, investigation and interviewing techniques, evidence processing, research methodology, report writing, the prosecution process, and how to provide testimonial evidence while in court, among other important skills that will help them in their career as future law enforcement professionals. 

ECC's Director of Digital Technologies, Jemel Townsend, championed for the college to participate as a chapter of the CCIRI, as he knew it would offer a unique opportunity for criminal justice students. Townsend, who was previously in law enforcement, worked with the CCIRI for over 10 years while living in Atlanta, where the CCIRI is based. 

“I sought a way to incorporate the CCIRI into our criminal justice program here at ECC because the institute provides a hands-on learning opportunity for our students to gain practice in crime investigation and potentially solving a real case,” said Townsend. “Our students will be diligently and dutifully working to bring justice to Ryan Singleton and his grieving family members.”

Townsend serves as the director of the Elgin Community College chapter of the CCIRI and will handle all related responsibilities as the instructor. 

The course is scheduled to run during the fall, spring, and summer semesters. While each student registers for a 16-week semester of the course, it will be repeatable up to 12 credit hours for those who want to build upon their sleuthing skills. Once the semester is over, the next group of students will pick up on progress made on Singleton's case by previous students, continuing to seek answers. 

ECC is currently the only active chapter of the CCIRI in Illinois and is the only chapter in the nation that is working on Ryan Singleton's case. The unit has set up a tip line and asks that anyone that has information pertaining to Singleton's case contact 740-936-3050.