Inside the FBI Podcast: Investigating Torture

On this episode of Inside the FBI, we’ll share the story behind a joint investigation by the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations that helped secure the second-ever conviction under the United States’ federal torture statute since its implementation in 1994.

Video Transcript

Perry Adams: Delivering the news that someone has died or been the victim of a serious crime is among the more difficult aspects of a career in law enforcement or victim services.  

Ensuring that trauma notifications are delivered with professionalism, dignity, and compassion has been a driving force for FBI Victim Services Coordinator Staci Beers. She has spent the past decade making training available for anyone whose professions require them to share this type of information.

The newest iteration of that training comes in the recently launched Trauma Notification Training on This course, as well as a new mobile app, provides law enforcement, victim advocates, and allied professionals with guidance, resources, and an evidence-based, four-step model for delivering a trauma notification.  

I’m Perry Adams, and this is Inside the FBI.

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Adams: Staci Beers has been a victim services coordinator in the FBI’s Victim Services Division since 2010, working with victims of domestic and international terrorism. It’s a career path she began after hearing a guest speaker in college. 

Staci Beers: I was a criminal justice major in college and realized in my junior year that I didn't want to carry a badge and a gun. And I thought, “Now what am I going to do?” 
And so a woman had come into our Psychology of Women class, specifically talking about working with rape survivors at a local rape crisis center, and I found it fascinating. I asked if there was a way to volunteer and, ironically, the volunteer class started that evening.  
So I started volunteering when I was in college. I would go to hospitals with rape victims. I would go take a hotline, so I would do crisis counseling, and I really loved it. I found my niche, and I really, really loved it.  
Adams: She earned her master's degree in social work and accepted a job with a nonprofit group in her local prosecutor's office.  
Beers: So then I started to work in the field of homicide, with children with grief, and sexual assault—and started to work in different systems. Prosecution was really fascinating, but I wanted to see what happens before that. So, I was able to work in a law enforcement agency—really being on the front lines of when things happen—and a child advocacy center. 
Adams: When one of her supervisors saw the job posting for a victim specialist with the FBI, she recommended Beers apply for it.  
Beers: I looked at it. I was like, “You know, let me just apply.” And never in a million years thought that I would get hired. And I did. I've been here for 14 years working specifically with victims of terrorism, both international and domestic, and I thoroughly enjoy the work. It's never the same day, and I just love working with the talented people in the Bureau. We all come from different places, but we're all focused on the same mission. It’s been great. 
Adams: Beers had been delivering trauma notifications as a victim advocate long before joining the FBI, and she remembers the difficulty of walking into those situations without the proper training. 
Beers: It was difficult, you know. I wasn't trained to do it, and I would go out with detectives, and I would just watch them fumble, telling the families this terrible information. I mean, we were doing notifications not just in homicides but suicides, overdoses, motor vehicle accidents, you name it. We were doing a lot of notifications, and just the way I saw the officers do this, I'm like, “Don't you get training?” And they said, “No.”  

As I started to explore developing this back in 2015, I realized that not a lot of law enforcement academies have training for this kind of notification. And, you know, one of the things that we say is that victims are volunteers, and how you interact with them the very first time you meet them can drive how they want to work with you. 

And so, it just makes sense to be prepared to give people the worst news in their life, you know, with four simple steps and really try to make it easy to understand and easy to remember. Really to set them up for success. I mean, every time I go out and do a notification, I'm extremely anxious knowing I'm going to change that person's life forever.   

Adams: When she joined the FBI, Beers began working with victims of mass violence incidents, and she witnessed the same struggles to deliver death and trauma notifications to the victims’ families.   
Knowing that training on this topic was essential, Beers worked initially with the FBI’s Office of Partner Engagement, the FBI’s Training Division, and Penn State University to create an easily accessible online course.  
The first iteration launched in April 2015 during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. About 40,000 professionals completed that training over the past nine years, including law enforcement, victim advocates, chaplains, members of the medical community, and emergency management. 
Beers: It’s called, “We Regret to Inform You,” and it was focused on making death notifications using a four-step model. It involves planning, preparedness, delivery, and follow-up.  
Adams: Walking people through those four steps is an essential part of the training process. Many trauma or death notifications tend to be made with little to no advance planning.  
Beers: So the first step is the planning. And what the planning really entails is, number one, like, who is the victim? And that might seem silly to people, but, you know, how are people identified? And the reason we want to focus so much on victim identification is because one of the first things that people ask us is, “Are you sure it's him?” “Are you sure it's her?” So you better be sure that it is them. So how are victims identified in that jurisdiction?  

We work very closely with the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at Dover Air Force Base. They only will use forensic identification. That is not the case in a lot of jurisdictions. It's mostly visual identifications. So what I always tell our teams is that if you're not 100% sure, you don't do it.  

Once we know how the victim is identified, then we know who their next of kin is. Where do they live? Where are they at? Are they at work? You know, what time of day is it? Will they be at home?  

And so looking at those kind of things for that planning is important. You know, what does your team look like? Does it make up the community? If you're going out to a community that might be bilingual, do you have somebody that speaks the language in that community? Really trying to meet the demographics of the community. So that is generally the planning. 
Adams: Preparation is the second step, which Beers describes as researching the standard operation procedures in that community. For example, what location is the team heading to? If it's a home, are there any known officer safety issues there?

If children may be present, are there any child protection issues to consider? Have there been calls for medical service there? If so, the notification team might want to station a medic around the corner before they deliver the news.  
Once the planning is done, step three is delivery. Beers recommends doing this with a single sentence.  
Beers: That one-sentence delivery is really key. I will say that, of the models that are used, most people start right at the beginning, which is delivery. "Let's just go out and do it." That's actually our third step because we found that if you start with the planning and the preparation, by the time you go to delivery, you've got everything you need.  
The delivery doesn't take that much time. It is the worst time, but it doesn't take that much time. So, you know, the third step is delivery, and that can last anywhere from five to seven minutes. Really quick. You know, you go to the location, you identify yourself, you knock on the door. We ask to enter the home, and we ask to sit down.  
And the reason we do that is because of privacy, and we don't want people to fall down. Does it always work? No. Do people want us in their home? No. But we try the very best so that we can protect their privacy.

Once we all sit down together, we identify ourselves, and we tell somebody that we have, you know, news to share with them. And it could be something as simple as, “There was a shooting at such and such location. I'm sorry to tell you that your son James has been identified, and he died as a result of his injuries.” And that's it. That's the delivery notification.  
Next, we are quiet and we let that person process because people have a range of reactions, from crying to disbelief to questioning. So we let it sink in. Sometimes we might have to say it again.  
And then sometimes victims will ask for next steps. So things like, “Can I see him? How do you know it's him? When can I be with them?” Those kind of things. So knowing in your community what your SOPs are about that is critical.  
Adams: After the team has done the notification, they will generally ask if there is someone they can call to ensure the victims are not alone. Then they ask for permission to follow up with the victims within the next 24 hours, which leads to step four of the process. 
Beers: The follow-up is step four, and that is generally done by a victim service professional so that they can talk with them about common things, like maybe the media is bothering them or has questions—and then they don't quite know how to answer the questions, so we have a guide for working with the media that we can help them with.  
They may have questions about the autopsy. What is it? What does it mean? They watch a lot of crime shows, and so they think they know what it means. So we can explain what it means. They may have questions about personal effects. Maybe they want their loved ones’ phones. How can they get them? Or a wedding ring or a necklace. And then they may have questions about, "How am I going to afford to bury my loved one? I don't have life insurance on them." So we can put them in touch with resources.  
So those really are the four steps. It's the planning. The preparation. It is the delivery—the in-person delivery. And then it is the follow up.  

Adams: In addition to the online course, Beers began to develop in-person training within the FBI for agents and victim specialists who may be tasked with a notification. So far, she’s helped train more than 800 individuals across 30 divisions of the FBI. 
Beers: A lot of times, after the mass violence incidents occur, communities are either overwhelmed or they're focused on that one thing. So they could be focused on the autopsy. So if a medical or coroner examiner's office is focused on the autopsies, they may say to the FBI, “Can you do the notifications?” 
We will only do the notifications if we are asked to do so. And that happens more often than not. You know, based on the 2012 Investigative Assistance Act, local law enforcement agencies are able to ask for federal assistance. And this is one of the things that they can ask for.  
In 2018, we started to train our own. So far, 30 divisions have been trained and have their own trauma notification teams so that, if a mass violence incident occurs, then they're also able to make that notification. Use the model. You know, we also unfortunately have had to use it internally when it's our own employees. If we have our own agents who have died in the line of duty, maybe have been injured in the line of duty, if we have someone that we've got to make notification about, we can use the same four-step model. 

We usually use a team of two. It's usually a law enforcement officer, a person of authority who's actually making the notification. That is the only person that speaks. And the reason for that is because when we're meeting with victims and we're going through this with them, they can't hear a lot of noise. And so it's really important for one person to speak.  
It’s normal to be anxious. It's normal to shake. It’s normal to not want to do this. But with a team of two, you've got a partner. And so it's not just on one person to do it, and it really works well.   
Adams: When traveling to different FBI offices to deliver the in-person training, Beers often takes the opportunity to train partners as well. 
Beers: Usually, it's a package deal. We'll go out. One day, we'll do our internal partners and then external the next day. It’s been very well received. And usually, in that group, we're inviting law enforcement, victim advocates, chaplains, Office of Emergency Management—people that would be in the know about who does notifications in their AOR [area of responsibility]. 
Adams: And as more and more people became trained in the four-step model, Beers began to receive valuable comments on ways that the training could expand. 
Beers: As we launched this, we got a lot of feedback about, "Well, hey, could we use it when we’re notifying a victim of an arrest? Could we notify somebody who is a victim that their child has been abducted?" Things like that. So we really opened the aperture quite a lot more, and we decided to focus on trauma notification instead of just death notification because it can be used for so many more criminal events that we work.  
Adams: Beers began to revise the course based on that feedback, expanding not only the training’s focus but its content as well. She added new video vignettes to illustrate the differences between an unprepared notification versus a prepared one. She also ensured the course included a wide variety of cultural and social scenarios. 
Beers: We really looked at this through the lens of cultural humility to ensure that we are meeting communities where they're at. And so there are four video vignettes that do show different cultures and how to approach them.  

Adams: The updated and expanded version of the course—now titled Trauma Notification Training—was officially released on the FBI’s website on April 22, 2024, again during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. 
Beers: I think it's always important to honor victims and survivors during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. It's a time for us to do that. I think it's really important this year because the theme is, “How Would You Help?” And so I think, for folks in law enforcement and victim services, how can we get better at serving victims? Well, let's get better by educating ourselves and using a tool or training ourselves on a tool that can help victims, you know, in the future. So that's why I think it's really helpful.  
The one thing I want people to know about this course is that it's free, it's online, it's available. It takes about an hour, and you can take it at your leisure. It's available on your phone. It's available on your computer. As long as you're connected to the Internet, you can find it. And there's lots of resources there. The URL is  
Adams: Again, that’s You can also learn more about the FBI’s Victim Services Division at  

Adams: This has been another production of Inside the FBI. You can follow us on your favorite podcast player, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or YouTube. You can also subscribe to email alerts about new episodes at   

I’m Perry Adams from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs. Thanks for listening.

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