When shots rang out in Falfurrias on an afternoon during Spring Break, Irma Romero instantly knew what to do.
Romero, who served in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army’s 549th Military Police Co. and is now part of the Army National Guard’s 236th Military Police Co. based out of San Antonio, quickly determined that what she heard was gunfire.
“Right away I recognized the gunshots and I ran to the front of the house,” she said. “It was two vehicles driving down the street shooting at each other. Luckily, nobody was hurt from our family. … The neighbors started coming out and wanting to know what happened.
“Right away I went into CSI mode. I started doing a line search and looking for casings and telling people ‘Don’t touch it.’”
CSI stands for crime scene investigator, an occupation Romero knows something about, both from her training in the military and the forensics coursework she’s taking at the University of Texas at Brownsville. She expects to graduate in June with an associate’s degree in forensic investigation.
After that she hopes to go to work in the forensics field while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology and eventually become a ballistics examiner. That’s the person who does the science to demonstrate that a specific bullet was fired from a specific firearm.
“You are able to connect the victim and the suspect by just that one round,” she said.
Romero happened to be in Falfurrias during Spring Break visiting family when she heard the shots ring out. What she did next was exactly what a good crime scene investigator would do, her forensics instructor, Michael Lytle, said. Lytle is the head of the forensics program in the UTB Department of Criminal Justice.
“The thing she showed was initiative,” Lytle said. “That comes from her military training. She steps right up to the task. She has that take-charge style.”
Romero said the important thing is to preserve evidence quickly.
First, she told a neighbor to call police. Then, she ran to her truck and grabbed her camera, began taking pictures and improvised. She photographed and diagrammed one casing found in the middle of the road, then placed it in a plastic bag provided by a neighbor with tweezers she had.
In all, she and the Falfurrias Police Department found six bullet casings in a two-block stretch and processed them as evidence.
“In class you’re taught to document a crime scene a certain way, how to locate evidence in relation to a fixed object by triangulation,” she said. “In class you can practice and practice, but until you’re there it’s not the same.”
Romero is a Brownsville native who enlisted in the active-duty Army in 2007 and was discharged in 2010.
“I came back home and decided I needed to do something,” she said, adding that the medical field was appealing, but she settled on the forensics program to take advantage of her military experience.
“I completely fell in love with the program,” she said.