NC crime lab examines microscopic evidence to solve crimes


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Forensic scientists are using microscopic observations to help solve crimes committed with guns.

If a crime is committed that involves a gun anywhere in North Carolina and evidence has to processed, it is sent to the North Carolina Crime Lab in Raleigh, or to the new facility in the western part of the state.

“These are mostly firearms that were used in crimes,” explained forensic scientist Jessica Pappas, while walking through the state’s gun storage room.

Inside are more than 3,000 guns that are now being used to help solve crimes.

“The firearms unit is crucial,” Pappas explained. “We tend to work a lot of assault with a deadly weapon, homicides.”

Law enforcement will collect evidence from a scene and send it to the crime lab.

The state has about 12 firearm examiners.

“We constantly have cases coming in,” Pappas said.

Her work is done on the microscopic level, searching for the DNA of a weapon rather than a person.

“We can compare them to each other on a comparison microscope looking at individual characteristics,” Pappas explained. “Those are individual marks left by firearms when they fire a round of ammunition and can be used to identify on particular firearm.”

Whether there are multiple victims or just one, the work can take a couple of hours or a couple of months.

“Even with a case with a small number of items, it may be a difficult comparison so even a single bullet to a single gun can still take some time,” Pappas said.

It’s evidence that can solve crimes locally or across the country.

“The same gun may have been used at different crimes so we compare evidence from different crime scenes to see if that’s the case,” Pappas added.

Matching a bullet to the gun it was fired from can be the key to putting a shooter behind bars.

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