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Learning the law
Juniors fighting crime
5 Advanced Academy pic 3
Junior Crime Scene Tech Savanah Danford, a 7th grader at Dawson County Middle School, looks for evidence Monday morning at an abandoned house where a mock murder scenario took place. Danford is one of over 50 participants in the Dawson County Sheriff's Office Advanced Junior Law Enforcement Academy. - photo by Photo/Michele Hester

A local man is in custody and authorities say he has confessed to a murder that occurred in downtown Dawsonville early Monday morning.


Although the mock murder scenario set up in an abandoned house on Elliott Village was staged to give a group of junior law enforcement campers a glimpse at true crime fighting techniques, solving the crime played out as if a real murder had been committed.


Junior officers were called to the mock-murder scene where they set up a perimeter, negotiated the release of a prisoner and raided the home to take a suspect into custody.


They later obtained a warrant to search the home, conducted a crime scene investigation to collect evidence and interviewed a suspect who confessed to the murder of a friend.


“He owed me money,” said “bad guy” Jim-Bob Neeley to junior investigators Libby Holder and Mariah Long, both 13. “My wife had nothing to do with it. Let her go.”


Long, who attends Dawson County Middle School, said she loved spending her day solving and fighting crime, even if it was made up.


“This is so much fun,” she said.


For the past 12 years, the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office has offered junior law enforcement camps that provide students with a hands-on simulation to all aspects of local law enforcement. 


From Crime Scene Investigations and S.W.A.T training, to weapons, manhunts, patrol and use of force and defense tactics, local students learn from officers trained in the various aspects of law enforcement.


Since the program’s inception in 1997, it has grown from 20 participants to 100, according to Dawson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tony Wooten.


Wooten said the older, advanced campers in this week’s program are in for a real surprise on Wednesday. “We’re going to be the criminals and we’re going to tell them to solve the crimes, but we’re not going to tell them how to do it. They’ll be on their own,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”


The sheriff’s office holds two camps each summer. Next week, rising fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students will have the opportunity to participate in the Junior Law Enforcement Academy.


Wooten said a number of participants over the years have gone on to enter the law enforcement field.


With aspirations to join the Marines, Seth Yates, 16, has aged out of attending the camp, but continues to play an active role by volunteering to help with the campers. “I always try to make everything fun for them and help them have a good time,” he said.


Wooten noted the importance of the academy, giving the kids the opportunity to see officers as ordinary people and not just someone who wears a badge, carries a gun and puts people in jail.