CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Swift Creek Middle School students took a hands-on approach to exploring history this past semester after researching and investigating a mysteriously recovered suitcase from a Bon Air home.

Using research methods taught by their teacher Pam Rockenbach-Plah, students were able to trace the suitcase’s contents back to World War II veteran Leonard Daniel Kelley. The students met his living relatives, who helped sift through Kelley’s old belongings and provided information about the meaning behind the now historical artifacts.

Bell bottom pants, Kelley’s Navy badges and uniform, and a mysterious lock and key were all discovered inside the trunk.

Kelley’s family members explained how exciting the collaborative journey was not just for the students but for themselves as they learned more about their family’s past. 

“That was just so exciting.” Delle Curry — Kelley’s niece — said, when asked about the moment she received her first letter from one of the students inquiring about Mr. Kelley.

Swift Creek teacher Pam Rockenbach-Plah shared how the experience taught students to dive deeper into their curiosity, but also about human connection.

“History is not just dates, it’s human people.” Rockenbach-Plah said.

The student-detectives said their next mission is to find out how the trunk ended up in Bon Air, after family members said Kelley never lived in the area.