USF anthropology assistant professor Erin Kimmerle talked to reporters as exhumations began at the Boot Hill cemetery at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL Saturday. USF researchers are exhuming dozens of graves at the former Panhandle reform school in hopes of identifying the boys buried there and learning how they died.
John Due, his daughter Tananarive Due-Barnes, her husband Steven Barnes, and their son Jason Due-Barnes, came to watch the researchers work on Saturday. Due's uncle, Robert Stephens, died at the Dozier Reform School in 1937. The family tells the Tampa Bay Times that school records indicate Stephens was killed by another student, but they've heard conflicting versions of his death. They want to find out what exactly happened to him, and would like to rebury his remains in the family plot.
After the family spoke to the researchers and reporters, pastor Ronald Mizer from the local St. James AME Church said a brief prayer.
WUSF News spoke to another one of Stephens' relatives, a nephew also named Robert Stephens, at an event earlier this year where DNA samples were taken from family members for genetic matching with the Dozier remains.
The research team, led by USF anthropology professors Christian Wells (in dark green shirt) and Erin Kimmerle, began their work in the Boot Hill cemetery at the Dozier School for Boys Saturday by carefully digging holes in areas they had previously scanned with ground-penetrating radar. After that, they sifted through the dirt for remains and other evidence. By Sunday night, they had dug in two graves and found well-preserved remains in one coffin, along with coffin hardware.