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74   ITC

International Training Conference & Expo



North Carolina

April 23-28 2023


Child & Adolescent Forensic Interviewing Considerations for Fire Cases

Thursday, April 27, 2023 (1:00pm - 5:00pm) (Ballroom 2)

Fire investigations are complex endeavors which, in some circumstances, may rely heavily on accounts provided from young children or adolescent witnesses, victims, and even the alleged offender. Recognizing the success of an investigation may depend on what is learned during an interview, it is imperative the framework of these interviews be structured in a manner which promotes detailed and accurate statements. For children and adolescents, it is widely accepted that using a researched-based protocol to elicit disclosures from victims and witnesses is the best way to obtain investigative information in a developmentally sensitive and unbiased way. Through the use of a Child/Adolescent Forensic Interviewer (CAFI), fire investigations can be enhanced when applying this trauma-informed way of interviewing child witnesses and victims. This presentation will address best practices for use of a CAFI, cognitive and linguistic development of children and adolescents, as well as recommendations for trauma-informed interviewing.


Stephanie Knapp

Stephanie Stronks Knapp is a Supervisory Child/Adolescent Forensic Interviewer with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Victim Services Division, Child Victim Services Unit.  She began her career with the FBI in 2001, developing and conducting trainings nationally throughout Indian Country while implementing best-practice methods of responding to violence against children, youth and adults.


A nationally known child abuse expert for her work with children, adolescents and young adults, Ms. Knapp has responded to thousands of cases involving victims and/or witnesses to child sexual abuse, child abduction/kidnapping, witness to domestic violence, homicide and child homicide, physical abuse, human trafficking, commuter facilitated crimes against children, terrorism, sextortion and complicated multi-victim cases.  She is responsible for conducting interviews, providing training, case consultation and technical assistance to Federal, State, Tribal and Local law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, Tribal/local Police departments, United States Attorneys’ offices, District Attorneys’ offices, Juvenile Probation, Child Protective Services, Armed Forces Services, NTSB and the U.S. Department of State.


She is a graduate of the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work, and a Minor in Spanish.   She is a graduate of the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work with a dual concentration in Health and Children, Youth & Family Welfare.


Melissa Merola

SSA Melissa Merola joined ATF in 2001 as a Special Agent assigned to the Richmond (VA) Field Office where she investigated alleged criminal violations of federal explosives, arson, firearms, narcotics trafficking, and Hobbs Act Robbery statutes. In December 2014, SSA Merola was assigned to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit where she provides behavioral based investigative and operational support to federal, state, local, and international law enforcement and fire service agencies in matters involving, but not limited to: acts of fire setting, bombings, terrorism, missing/abducted adults, and unusual/bizarre or repetitive acts of violence against adults. SSA Merola is the senior member of the Arson & Bombing Investigative Subunit within BAU.

Prior to her work with ATF she was a home-based therapist for minors who were judicially referred for mental health and/or substance abuse issues who were at risk of residential placement. 

She has a MSEd in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a MA in Counseling Psychology from Fordham University. She is currently enrolled at Oklahoma State University in a Doctorate of Forensic Sciences program.

SSA Merola is a participant and/or Principal Investigator on a number of research projects, including the following: Deception in 911 Homicide Calls and Homicide Staged as Suicide Calls; Homicides with Crime Concealment Arsons; Homicide and Suicide- How Nudity Factors Into this Determination; and Considerations in Missing Adult Investigations.

She is a member of the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators (IABTI), the International Homicide Investigators Association (IHIA), Mid-Atlantic Cold Case Homicide Investigators (MACCHIA), and the Virginia Homicide Investigators Association (VHIA).

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