What would a detective ask someone who found a murder victim?

I’m writing a scene where a nine year old girl is being questioned by a police officer after finding her dad murdered. Most of the conversation I’ve finished, and most of it is about establishing the characters more than actually trying to get leads, so it feels a bit contrived. I was hoping to pad the scene out a bit with some realistic seeming police work.

Anyone have any experience in this area? What kinds of things would someone ask? Are there things that wouldn’t be asked either not to upset the child or because someone that young simply wouldn’t be considered a reliable witness?

Where did she find her dad? In her house, backyard, woods? Does the officer believe that the girl found her father close in time to when he was murdered?

Nine years old is pretty old. They can articulate pretty well. And actually, depending on the jurisdiction, I think the average age that is considered, “presumed unreliable,” is 7yo. And even then, a child that young can testify. The judge will usually ask them questions to determine whether they know the difference between a lie and the truth, etc… One of the most intense moments of my career was cross-examining a 6yo molestation victim. The kid was an excellent witness.

The police would absolutely question a 9yo, to get as much information as possible. They would probably have the child close her eyes, and think back to finding her dad. What does she see, what does she smell, what does she hear, is anything out of place, are the windows opened or closed, did she touch anything, how quickly until she called the police… lots of, “you are strong and smart, we need your help, we need you to tell us everything you can remember.” Also about her dad… did he seem ok the last couple of days? Was he upset or agitated? Was there anyone around other than mom or dad the past week?

They would definitely bring her somewhere she felt comfortable talking. Maybe to her bedroom. If she is at the police station, they would definitely bring her something to eat and drink, give her a stuffed animal (maybe her favorite taken from her house). And don’t forget the CPS social worker. They will absolutely be there.

Good luck!

It probably isn’t realistic police work, but you could have her talk about what happened at school that day and the bus ride home. This does to (fictional) things. The kid talks about “normal” stuff to start with, so she is led gently into the icky stuff, this might upset her less. Secondly, it can be used later on for plot purposes. If she’s a reliable witness, she tells the same story in court. If she’s unreliable, the story changes - and so might the outcome of the story .

I’m a retired detective and worked many homicides. However, I never had a case where a young child found the body of the parent. You’d ask a kid the same things you’d ask an adult but in “gentler” terms. Having a child psychologist present or observing the interview would be a good idea. We would include detectives from our Child Abuse unit when interviewing young witnesses. They would often have a better way with kids or at least help them to feel more comfortable. Anyway, things you’d ask – Where did you find him? When? Did you touch anything? Did you call anyone else? When was the last time you saw or talked to him? Was he mad or fighting with anyone (including mom)? Where is mom? Who is his best friend? Did he have any friends that you don’t like? Where did he work? Did he like his job? What did he like to do outside the home (hobbies, etc.)? Did you see or hear anything unusual? Did he have a cell phone? What’s the number? Did he spend time on the computer? This all has to be done with great care, for obvious reasons. Kids can be excellent witnesses but you have to consider things from their perspective. A 5’6”, skinny 18 year old can be a “big man” to them. Assuming there is nothing else to go on at this point, you’d be looking for anything to connect your victim to a person or location in the recent past and go from there. Finding the last person that saw someone alive is important for many reasons.

Thanks for the responses. This helps a lot.

I’m just glad you didn’t have “Need answer fast!” in your thread title.