Detective Rich Emmons demonstrates the forensic light that recently was donated to Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Detective Rich Emmons demonstrates the forensic light that recently was donated to Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A new tool in the arsenal to fight crimes against children

Snohomish County child-abuse investigators are using a donated forensic light to find trace DNA.

EVERETT — A forensic light is helping Snohomish County detectives uncover evidence that otherwise could be overlooked.

The violet light can illuminate biological matter on what appears to be a spotless cloth towel. It also shows injuries long after visible bruises have faded.

Those findings are vital, especially when victims of crimes aren’t able to explain what happened to them.

The forensic light recently was donated to the Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center. The Everett-based nonprofit helps children who have been physically or sexually abused, neglected or have witnessed violence. Medical professionals, prosecutors, therapists and detectives work together on site.

Detective Rich Emmons’ office is upstairs. He is a part of the sheriff’s office special investigations unit. It focuses on crimes ranging from child abuse to human trafficking to sexual assault.

Uncovering physical evidence can help prove that a child was victimized. A 5-year-old might not understand what happened to him, Emmons said.

However, he can point to the room where the sexual assault occurred.

A detective can then walk into that room and inspect the walls, floor and furniture with the forensic light. Emmons looks for traces of DNA left behind that can be tested. Those bits of information piece together a story.

Paula Newman-Skomski, a forensic nurse at Dawson Place, said this technology will be instrumental in their clinic. It is a new tool for the center and Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives, one that provides clearer and brighter images than a different light they have been using.

About 80 percent of people who have been strangled do not have visible injuries, Newman-Skomski said. They oftentimes don’t remember the attack, either. The lack of oxygen hinders the brain from creating memories, she said. Trauma also can have a similar effect.

The forensic light can fill in gaps for detectives, or corroborate a victim’s account.

Newman-Skomski recalled a girl who came into Dawson Place to see one of the forensic nurses. She said she had been strangled. The nurse noticed small marks on her neck.

Underneath the light, there were two distinct handprints. The fingerprints showed up as dark shadows.

More than 1,200 children were served at Dawson Place in 2015.

“We’re fairly overwhelmed with our work here,” Emmons said. “We try to make them better.”

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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