“It sounds like a hokey story, but in middle school I became obsessed with this show and the use of science to solve crimes,” Heurich said. “And for some reason, I really related to Quincy’s assistant.”
Today, at 46, Heurich is no one’s assistant. The Maryland resident, who goes by “Chuck,” is the program manager of the National Institute of Justice’s forensics division. He is a finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America justice and law enforcement medal for his part in developing the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a clearinghouse for missing and unidentified persons’ records.
The Samuel Heyman awards — sponsored by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and known among government workers as the “Sammies” — are considered by the 800,000 federal employees nationwide as the Oscars (or, in the case of Heurich’s television-inspired career choice, the Emmys) of the public-service world.
If you ask Heurich, he’s quick to play down his role in NamUs (pronounced NAME-iss). He attributes the strides NamUs has made since it was launched in 2009 to “a great team of people” — not his own 12-hour days, which include commuting between the home he shares in Frederick and his D.C. office — and he is reluctant to discuss his own success as an adult without acknowledging the curiosity he felt as a teenager.
“I really liked biology,” he says simply.
Heurich, a native of Buffalo, got his first taste of forensics in high school when, as a member of the gifted-and-talented program, he enrolled in an eight-week summer program at the Maryland Academy of Sciences taught by Mark Profili of the Baltimore Police Department’s crime lab.
“When Chuck was taking my class, forensic science wasn’t the cool, sexy field it is today because of its portrayal by TV shows and movies. We were science nerds,” Profili said.
“Today, students would be lined up to take the course, but then some of the students just wanted to see pictures of dead people,” he added. “But Chuck was always interested in doing something in forensics — in and for forensics.”
At Profili’s urging, Heurich majored in biology as an undergraduate, graduating in 1987 from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, he called Profili again. This time, his mentor gave him a job tip: Baltimore’s crime lab was looking for someone to do fieldwork. Heurich got the job.
From 1988 to 1991, he collected data from the scenes of 3,000 crimes, 300 of which were homicides.
“This was back when it was a high-crime city,” he said. “It was just mind-boggling. In my last year, it came to a point where [the crime scenes] just blended together.”