A family in front of an open suitcase in school

Pam Plahs and her social studies students at Swift Creek Middle have been at work since 2019 solving the secrets of a mysterious suitcase full of World War II artifacts. They started with an anonymous suitcase that included a U.S. Navy uniform and a notebook. After years of research and tracking down leads, students discovered that Leonard Daniel Kelley was the original owner of the suitcase. In 2024, they gave the suitcase to his nephew and other relatives, who traveled from Texas and North Carolina to accept the suitcase and meet the students.

During a May 20 assembly, Swift Creek Middle seventh graders provided an overview of the research project from its beginning and family members shared memories of Kelley. In the audience were two high school seniors who were among the original students involved in the research project. This student-created website tells the story of the suitcase.

These videos cover how Plahs used the suitcase and its contents to teach research and critical thinking skills and show students how much can be learned about life in the past using documents and artifacts:

Students standing in front of items found in a WWII suitcaseStudents, family members, and school staff standing in front of an open suitcaseWWII attireWWII items that were found in a suitcaseThree people talking together in the school auditoriumTwo people looking at WWII artifacts found in a suitcaseThree people being recorded and interviewed