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Boot camp tours morgue in effort to teach youth about bad choices

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– There’s a sign on the door to the autopsy room at the Marion County Coroner’s Office to warn visitors there’s a homicide autopsy being conducted.

Inside, more than a dozen business cards with cell phone numbers of IMPD homicide detectives are thumb tacked to a bulletin board. The room is well-lit, sterile, clean and smells of death.

Fifteen youngsters from an IMPD summer boot camp took a field trip to the county morgue to see firsthand the price that can be paid for making bad choices.

“Once it’s over, it’s over. You’re dead, okay?” explained Alfarena Ballew, the chief deputy coroner. “The decisions that you make will ultimately lead you to this office.”

Among the teens, who minutes before were wisecracking and smirking, there were stricken faces as one child choked back nausea.

“I brought them to the morgue, first off, just to let them know this is it,” said IMPD Sgt. Vincent Burke. “Once you get here there’s no coming back.”

The coroner’s staff conducts more than 600 autopsies a year.

“The decisions of drinking and driving will lead you here,” said Ballew. “The decisions of playing with a gun will lead you here. The decision of being with the wrong people will lead you here. This is the ultimate resting place for people that make bad decisions.”

The youngsters glimpsed a view inside the room where bodies are stored at a temperature of 42 degrees.

They spotted the tables were autopsies were done on Monquez Edwards, 16, and James Johnson, 15, a pair of friends killed within days in what IMPD is calling unrelated shootings.

“If we’re not carrying ourselves the right way, we will get hurt and we will be on the table if we don’t stay out of the streets,” said John Gray, 16. “Most kids my age are dying every day because they’re inside the streets and its gang related and they don’t have anybody to talk to and they just start dying and for me to be in this program, it helps me stay out of trouble.”

The three-week program accepts children referred by parents and the Marion County Juvenile Court. The youngsters start each morning with physical therapy at the IMPD Training Academy and then attend classes on decision making and conflict resolution.

“If you’re a follower, you could end up in a position that you don’t really want to be in,” said Burke. “If you’re a follower, once you’re there, sometimes it’s hard to turn back.”

“It’s terrible how kids my age are dying so easily these days,” observed Gray.