QUANTICO -- "Your radio channel is going to be A-6," the FBI special agent told his squad room of 38 crime fighters. "We want to try to solve this bank robbery as soon as possible."
The agents split up: Several went to the bank to interview distraught employees, others headed to talk to the agency's sources, and still others started chatting up witnesses to another robbery at a nearby pharmacy.
Within hours, the feds had their culprits, barging into offices and motel rooms to take down people like Crystal Reese, whom agents led from Room 126 of the Dogwood Inn in handcuffs as she screamed, "I ain't no punk!"
Although some of the agents were real, badge-baring feds, most of them weren't. And Reese will not be doing any hard time. By Friday, she'll be back at the FBI's Washington Field Office, where she works as an audit supervisor.
The 38 investigators who worked the case on the grounds of the FBI Academy were 38 high school students from the District and its Virginia suburbs. Now in its sixth year, the Future Agents in Training program offers students a weeklong exposure to the nation's most prominent law enforcement agency and its mission, culminating in Thursday's simulation using the same facilities as real FBI agents.
Authorities jokingly describe the victimized Bank of Hogan as "the most robbed bank in the world" because of how often agents use the building to train. While the students collected evidence and interviewed witnesses, helicopters continually roared overhead as specialized FBI teams prepared to hunt down criminals beyond the Marine Corps base that houses the academy.
"This is bringing real life to them," said Sherley Victor, an FBI employee who played a sobbing bank teller. "Being able to work with kids and knowing that they're on this right track, it was fun doing this."
The FBI said about 80 students applied for the 2012 rendition of the program, which is the only one of its kind in the United States.
Joe Rund, of Falls Church, said the program helped to uncloak the FBI's mystique for him.
"It's a good insight into what they do and what really goes on," said Rund, who wants to pursue a career in law enforcement, as his radio crackled.
"It's the greatest thing anyone could ever think of," said Marcus Edwards, a 17-year-old D.C. resident, said of the program. "It's hands-on, so you don't just sit and go through death by presentation."