From an early age, the path of life – and death – fascinated Elizabeth Ortiz. When she was just six, her cousin was in a car accident that left him paraplegic, and his friend and fellow passenger dead. “Why did my cousin live?” she wondered. “Why do some people die and others survive?”
Despite having what some might consider a morbid curiosity surrounding life and death, Ortiz found her niche in criminology. Since graduating in 2013 with a Master of Science in Criminology from Regis, she’s used what she learned here to further her understanding of life, death and what it means to be human. Her curiosity led her to the role of medicolegal death investigator with the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office here in Colorado.
“The mystery of life led me down this path,” she said. “Now my job is to investigate all unattended deaths in the county.”
Some of the individuals Ortiz investigates are unable to be identified. Her professional goal, she said, is to work supporting a database that compiles all the information gathered about unidentified individuals so that they might hopefully be identified.
While some hear about what she does and are immediately “grossed out,” Ortiz said, she does not view her role as a macabre one. “I believe everyone is entitled to understand what our office does, not only for the sake of those curious but also to dispel any myths and concerns regarding their loved ones.”
Regis, Ortiz said, taught her to treat every individual she encounters in her work with dignity as well as compassion. It also fostered in her a curiosity about how people’s lives evolve, how they impact the world around them, and how they should be treated with respect, especially in death.
“They are human beings whose cycle of life has ended. They were someone’s daughter, mother, son, father, husband or wife,” she said. “Who am I to judge? It doesn’t matter how they died; ultimately they deserve the right to be treated with respect.”
Learn more about how a degree in criminology from Regis prepares graduates to treat every case with respect.