Future Arson Investigators Get Hands On Lesson At Wills Hotel

It's a lesson they can't learn from just text books. It's the reason students from the University of Southern Mississippi's Arson Law Process and Procedures Class are rummaging through the ruins of Gulfport's old Wills Hotel. They're here to ask questions, and to uncover answers.

"They're actually getting their hands dirty," says Dr. Tom Payne, Associate Professor with the USM Administration of Justice Department.

"They're smelling the fire. They seeing the soot, and they're able to conduct an investigation just like in the real world."

Teachers say studying arson is much more than an investigative process. They say its an art form and they believe burned out buildings like this one, provide an excellent canvas for their young students.

"You know you can read a book all day long but until you actually get into the environment you really can't tell what's going on, says senior Randy Hendrix of Hattisburg:

"It teaches them the art of arson investigation and it's a very practical approach," says Dr. Payne.

It's a practical approach that leads them to the answers hidden in the ashes.

"Room 15 has the most damage," says Senior Cherie Pringle of Gautier. "So to our conclusions, that's where the fire started."

A lesson learned and a final grade well earned.