As USF researchers and government officials, including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, get ready to tour the grounds of what was once the the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, the major obstacle of funding the researchers' work may soon be resolved.
A team led by USF Assistant Professor of Anthropology Erin Kimmerle is awaiting approval -- which may come any day -- to begin exhumations of graves found around the school, which was closed after decades of alleged abuse and the mysterious deaths of boys who lived there.
Earlier work by Kimmerle and fellow researchers turned up nearly 50 unmarked graveshafts -- 19 more than state law enforcement found in a previous investigation.
A release from Nelson's office says the Senator and Kimmerle, along with local medical examiner Dr. Michael Hunter, 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Glenn Hess and other researchers and Florida Department of Juvenile Justice officials, will visit the Dozier site Wednesday.
They'll reportedly examine Boot Hill Cemetery, where Kimmerle's team plans to begin exhuming bodies. In an email to WUSF News, Kimmerle says her team is just waiting on an exhumation order to begin digging.
“I think that the fact that there have been family members who’ve come forward and been very public about what happened to their brothers, their uncles, and the fact that they’re seeking information and really asking for repatriation, their voice should be heard," Kimmerle told WUSF last year.
The Senator's group will also look at an area near what's known as the White House, a site where many of the former reform school residents alleged they were seriously abused.
The announcement of the trip came a day after Nelson's office released a letter from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that encouraged USF researchers to apply for a grant to continue their forensic work. Holder's letter said there is around $3 million available for between two and four investigations that would allow the use of DNA to identify missing people. The deadline for the grant program is May 6.
While the USF research team has expressed concerns about funding to continue their research, the Tampa Bay Times reports the Florida Senate's proposed budget includes $200,000 for the work, while the Florida House also said it will fully fund USF's request for $190,000.
Kimmerle tells WUSF News that the research team is "pursuing all possible leads for funding."