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Professor consults for TV

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By Ashley Anderson / News Editor

By Ashley Anderson / News Editor

“NCIS,” one of CBS’s most highly rated shows, features a character named Abby, who is rumored to be based upon a forensic anthropologist employed by the Riverside Community College District.

“The character of Abby has done me a great deal of good,” said Dr. Alexis Gray, associate professor of Anthropology at Norco College. “I was always a punker at heart. When I got tenured here, I started to dye my hair pretty wild colors and no one was freaked out. Essentially, Abby cleared the pathway for me. By (the writers of “NCIS”) writing this character, I got to be who I actually am.”

Due to lawsuit precautions, however, Gray can neither confirm nor deny these rumors of being the basis for Abby.

Gray has also consulted for the television show “Bones.”

“I received $100 and a box of cupcakes and a pen and two posters as payment,” Gray said. “I got to her (titular character from “Bones”) office and her hominid fossil skulls are in the wrong order. There was no logical order they were in. So I started moving them around. I told them stories and they (producers of the show) sort of followed me around.”

Gray is the forensic anthropologist for all of San Bernardino County and besides teaching full time at RCC, she is one of about 70 active forensic anthropologists in the country.

“I’ve got the largest county,” Gray said. “I’m the only one because there’s only enough work for one. We (forensic anthropologists) do this for very little money. We are all pretty much nuts.”

The path to get to where she is at in life for Gray wasn’t an easy one.

She spent a total of 18 years in school, and with loans amounting to $120,000, her education came to a total of $170,000.

During graduate school, Gray found herself as a single mom struggling to make it through on wages of $8,000 a year with her son. How she got through school was help from friends.

“There was a time when I really needed a babysitter for my son,” Gray said. “There was a plane crash I needed to go to, but it was 3 a.m. during finals week. Where am I going to get a babysitter at 3 a.m. during finals week? So I took him with me.”

Though examining the remains of humans and investigating the cause of death may not appeal to all, Gray does her work for the families of the deceased.

“There’s nothing worse than not knowing what happened,” Gray said. “I had a case a while ago, we decided to work a case, a dead body found in the 80s, he had a wrong I.D., so the county just buried him, he was a john Doe.”

“So in 2005 we had some more information and we found him, so we were able to call his family and excavate him, recover all his bones, call his family and tell them what happened,” Gray continued.

“His mother’s response was to laugh, which to me is like, ‘what, why are you laughing?'” Gray said. After I had stopped judging, she was so relieved after 20 years she did not know what had happened to him, the last conversation she had was on Mother’s day with him saying he’d call tomorrow. He died the next day, so she knows he did not just wander off, he was murdered.”

“You would be surprised by how many families will smile afterwards receiving the answers that they needed.” 

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