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USF Researchers to Dig at Dozier This Weekend

Aug 28, 2013

University of South Florida researchers are expected to start digging for human remains buried on the grounds of the Dozier School for Boys at the end of the week.

Metal crosses mark graves at the cemetery of the former Arthur Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. Investigators using ground-penetrating radar and soil samples say there are nearly 100 unmarked graves on the grounds.
Credit Credit Michael Spooneybarger / Reuters/Landov

Several families have been waiting for years to get closure about their loved ones believed to have died from abuse at the now-closed reform school.

It could take awhile before the USF researchers find the remains of the boys on the grounds of the Marianna school, but they’re expected to start the exhumations during a four-day period this upcoming weekend.

Researchers have already found evidence of nearly 100 unmarked graves at Dozier, and hope to dig up those graves to give closure to some of the relatives of the boys.

That includes Glen Varnadoe, who’s hoping the researchers will find the remains of his uncle Thomas, who died there in 1934.

"(He died) after only being there for some 38 days at the institution," Varnadoe said. "By the number of burials that are there, they’re obviously going to find other people, but if he (Thomas) would be the first one, I’d be ecstatic, I could close that chapter in my life and move on.”

Researchers recently received unanimous approval from Governor Rick Scott and the rest of the Florida Cabinet members to exhume the bodies. They'll have a one-year window to search the grounds for the reportedly unaccounted-for bodies of boys said to have died at the school between 1900 and 1952.

According to State Representative Alan Williams, it’s time for the truth about Dozier to come out.

“In order to move forward, you have to correct some of the past misgivings and the missteps that the state has done," Williams said.

The Legislature had approved 190-thousand dollars for research to determine the causes of death, identify remains, locate family members and pay for any re-burials.

Researchers have been investigating the school, which at one time encompassed 14-hundred acres, to resolve whether boys there could have been killed and buried on the grounds.

The first of the digs will begin this Labor Day Weekend, starting Saturday morning and lasting until Tuesday.