Grave excavation continues at Dozier reform school site

8:12 AM, Sep 3, 2013   |    comments
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MARIANNA, Florida (AP) - Researchers are working on two graves at a former Florida reform school where students say they were abused.

The researchers from the University of South Florida continued the slow, painstaking process of unearthing remains in the hopes of identifying those buried at the now-closed Arthur G. Dozier School in Florida's northwestern Panhandle. The digging and work will go on through Tuesday.

"We are making really good progress," Erin Kimmerle, the USF anthropologist leading the excavation, said Sunday. Preservation of the remains in the first coffin were good, she said. Cranial and teeth fragments were found, along with coffin hardware such as nails and handles.

The remains of about 50 people are in the graves, she said. Some are marked with a plain, white steel cross, and others have no markings.

"Some are very decorative, which can help come up with a date," she said.

Researchers also hope to learn how the boys died at the school, which opened in 1900 and shut down two years ago for budgetary reasons.

Former inmates at the reform school from the 1950s and 1960s have detailed horrific beatings in a small, white concrete block building.

A group of survivors who call themselves the "White House Boys" called for an investigation into the graves five years ago. In 2010, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ended an investigation and said it could not substantiate or refute claims that boys died at the hands of staff. 

Robert Straley, a spokesman for the White House Boys, said the school segregated white and black inmates and that the remains are located where black inmates were held. He suspects there is a separate white cemetery with more bodies that hasn't been discovered.

USF later began its own research and discovered more graves. The school worked for months to secure a permit to exhume the remains, finally receiving permission from Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet after being rejected by Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who reports to Scott.

The remains will be taken to Tampa to be studied. DNA obtained will be sent for analysis to be matched to relatives. Ten families have contacted researchers in hopes of identifying relatives that might be buried at Dozier.

If matches are found, remains will be returned to the families.

More Stories on the Dozier School for Boys:

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