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Field Museum intern and Northeastern biology student Charles D’Lavoy was able to experience first hand how botanical research can affect a community. D’Lavoy, who spent the summer researching moss at the Field Museum, was selected by museum researchers to assist in the investigation of the Katherine “Baby Kate” Phillips disappearance in Ludington, Michigan. The infant disappeared June 29, 2011, and law enforcement officers have been searching for answers ever since.
Over the summer, search teams of nearly 100 volunteers, including D’Lavoy, scoured the woods near Mason County, the area where criminal investigators believe Baby Kate was killed and abandoned two years ago. D’Lavoy led a team of 15 people consisting of FBI officials, corrections officers, state troopers and sheriff department representatives.
The location and identification of certain mosses helped investigators narrow the search area. Volunteers were instructed to look for specific plants, particularly moss or grass-like plants, that would rarely grow near each other. Those volunteers would then call on D’Lavoy for a quick identification, and he would determine if the moss or plant-like substance was of importance to the search.
“I planned to go in there and be very meticulous and do the best scientific job I could,” D’Lavoy explained. “After four hours it started to dawn on me what I was doing; there was a child who had been murdered, and the people working my grid were part of this community that really felt a loss.”
D’Lavoy described the experience as a confidence builder for his future work in the field, but his involvement in the search also helped open his eyes to other communities.
“Working at the museum and getting this opportunity has shown me how working in science is still working directly with the community, and I really enjoy that aspect,” said D’Lavoy.