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Ferris Forensic Biology Professor, Students Help in Search for 'Baby Kate'

Gary RodabaughAbout a dozen Ferris State University Forensic Biology students and teams of volunteers joined law enforcement officials on a recent plant search in connection with the missing “Baby Kate” case in Ludington.

Police are hopeful the search for specific plant and moss specimens will lead them to the remains of the 4 1/2-month-old infant, who disappeared June 29, 2011 while in her father’s custody. Gary Rodabaugh, a professor of Biology and coordinator of Ferris’ Forensic Biology program, led the team of students during the June 28-29 search in northern Mason County.

Sean Phillips, who is serving a 10- to 15-year prison sentence, had several types of plant matter on his shoes. Authorities are hopeful the botanical evidence will help lead them to Katherine’s final resting place.

The Ferris students participated on one of the primary search teams and were sent to the “hot spots” where law officials thought it was most likely to find clues of where Baby Kate’s remains were buried.

“This was very a very important, real world search”, Rodabaugh said. “It was an active search, the students had to ID the plants and after they were inspected by an expert, an evidence officer collected it.”

This was the first public experience that students have been able to participate in. They have worked in laboratory settings, working on recreated crime scenes throughout their courses, however this is the first opportunity students have gotten to work on a case of this caliber. The students volunteered their time to participate in the search and underwent extensive training. In an eight hour day, they only covered about half a football field, which is typical for a search like this.

All the samples were field verified and have been sent to a botanical lab in Chicago to be examined more closely.