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The Utility of Routine Histological Examination of Gunshot Wounds

Perez, Danielo B. MD; Molina, D. Kimberley MD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: September 2012 - Volume 33 - Issue 3 - p 231–233
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e318252e05f
Original Articles

Determining the range of fire is a crucial part of a forensic examination of gunshot wound victims. Traditionally, this has been accomplished by noting the gross appearance of soot or powder around the wound. This study was undertaken to determine the utility of routine histological examination of gunshot wounds as related to range-of-fire determination. A prospective study was performed, and a total of 69 gunshot wounds were examined both macroscopically and microscopically. Of the 45 entrance wounds examined, there was 100% concordance between macroscopic and microscopic analysis for the close-range wounds and 67% concordance for the distant wounds, with 33% of these wounds showing no evidence of soot or powder grossly but where residue was seen microscopically. In addition, 21% of the exit wounds examined showed microscopic evidence of soot/powder residues when none were visible macroscopically. As described in previous studies, it can be assumed that the bullet itself can deposit small residues along the wound track (bullet wipe) that can be seen microscopically and is unrelated to the range of fire. Therefore, the authors conclude there is no utility in the routine histological examination of gunshot wounds for the determination of range of fire.

From the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, Chicago, IL.

Manuscript received October 26, 2011; accepted January 16, 2012.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: Danielo B. Perez, MD, 1149 Needham Rd, Naperville, IL 60563. E-mail:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.