April Chai receives Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Institute of Justice

September 28, 2023

headshot of Dr. Jeffrey Bumgarner

We are pleased to announce April Miin Miin Chai, a fourth-year doctoral student in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, has received a Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) from the National Institute of Justice for her dissertation project, titled "The Mortal Tragedy: Analyzing Body Disposal Patterns in Homicide Cases." Her fellowship, in the amount of $166,500, is the single largest award ever received by a graduate student at Texas State University. 

The NIJ GRF provides three years of funding to support doctoral students whose dissertation research is relevant to criminal and/or juvenile justice. This program contributes to the DOJ's mission by increasing the pool of researchers engaged in providing scientific solutions to problems related to criminal justice policy and practice in the United States. April is the sixth TXST graduate student to be awarded a GRF and the first since the award returned from a 2-year hiatus. In FY 2023, the award amount was increased from $150,000, and 24 awards were made nationally -- only 2 of which went to Texas institutions of higher education.

April's dissertation committee chair is Dr. Kim Rossmo, a professor in our School and the director of the Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation (GII). In his Statement of Support, Dr. Rossmo wrote that April's project addresses a pressing problem in her field, with the potential for wide-ranging practical impacts: 

“The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS) estimates there are more than 600,000 active missing persons cases in the United States, with a significant portion of these cases potentially involving homicide. Time is a critical factor for locating victim remains. The longer it takes for law enforcement to locate a body, the greater the risk of losing valuable evidence and information that can aid in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator. As time passes, the decomposition of human remains leads to greater risk of degradation and loss of DNA and other physical evidence, and potential witnesses and suspects become more difficult to locate, delaying resolution for the community. In addition to time constraints, police departments often lack sufficient personnel and equipment resources to conduct a thorough search for a missing homicide victim.”

According to Dr. Rossmo, "April’s proposed research involves a novel and innovative combination and application of methods from various fields, such as environmental criminology, forensic taphonomy, and forensic archeology, to aid law enforcement in the search for body disposal sites." April's project thus has demonstrable relevance to preventing and controlling crime and ensuring the fair and impartial justice administration of criminal and/or juvenile justice in the United States. Specifically, her project addresses the challenge of locating clandestine graves outlined by NIJ’s Forensic Science Research and Development Technology Working Group (TWG). It also aligns with Strategic Priority I of the Forensic Science Strategic Research Plan (FSSRP) to advance applied research and development in forensic science, particularly by identifying clandestine sites. 

April was born in Malaysia and received her B.A. and M.A. from Simon Fraser University in Canada.