Pasco County had a dedication ceremony for a 5-acre field that will be used to advance forensic research and aid in criminal investigations.
The “body farm” is next to the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center, off U.S. 41. A separate forensics and training facility also is being planned near the body farm site.
The field has been named the Adam Kennedy Forensics Field, in honor of the former principal of Crews Lake Middle School, who died in a car accident while driving to work in January.
His body was the first one donated to the body farm.
“There is so much bittersweet about this,” said Abigail Kennedy, the principal’s wife, as she spoke during a May 12 ceremony.
Officials from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, county commissioners, and Dr. Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida’s Institute of Forensic Anthropology & Applied Science (IFAAS) also were there, as the sign for the field was unveiled.
Adam Kennedy wanted to leave his body to science, Abigail Kennedy said, noting that before her husband died, the couple had discussed possible options, including donating to a medical school.
She said her husband wanted to do something “dedicated to making people’s lives better.”
She contacted USF about the plans underway for the body farm and forensics facility to ask if her husband’s body could be the first donation.
“All I could think was this couldn’t be more perfect,” she said. “This is so cool. This is so Adam.”
The campus of the Florida Forensics Institute for Research & Tactical Training, or F.I.R.S.T., is expected to become a national and international hub for research in the field of forensic science.
The body farm and forensics facility will be the seventh in the nation to study body decomposition as a tool in solving crimes, and identifying victims of murder or other trauma.
The University of Tennessee, in Knoxville, opened the first facility of this type during the 1970s.
The former principal’s body will be buried and later exhumed for research.
So far, about 30 people have preregistered with USF for body donations.
Project partners include the sheriff’s office, Pasco County, Pasco-Hernando State College and the IFAAS.
Kimmerle and USF are well-known for their work in identifying bodies found in unmarked graves at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
The forensics building at F.I.R.S.T. will be the Thomas Varnadoe Forensic Center for Education and Research. Varnadoe’s body was among those recovered and identified at the grave site at the Dozier school.
Pasco’s campus will include a laboratory, classrooms, a morgue and evidence storage. Virtual autopsies with 3-D scanning and chemical isotope analysis will be done. Other activities will focus on legal medicine, forensic intelligence, aviation reconstruction and cyber forensics.
A tactical training facility for the sheriff’s K-9 unit and the Pasco Unified SWAT team also is planned.
About $200,000 in funding for this facility is being aided through a local campaign spearheaded by the Rotary Club of Wesley Chapel.
State funds of about $4.3 million for the forensics and research facility are included in the 2018 budget approved by Florida legislators. But, as of The Laker/Lutz News’ publication deadline, Gov. Rick Scott had not yet decided whether to sign the budget bill.
Scott has expressed displeasure with the budget and could opt to use his line item veto, veto the education portion of the budget or veto the entire budget.
The project will go forward whatever the decision, according to sheriff’s office officials. If the appropriation isn’t approved this year, another request will be made in the 2019 state budget or other sources of money will be sought, they said.
Published May 31, 2017