Video: Dozier School Families Provide DNA in Search for Answers

Jun 19, 2013

Ovell Krell provides a DNA sample as Robert Stephens looks on. Both have relatives who died mysteriously after being sent to the Florida School for Boys.
Credit Dalia Colón / WUSF

The investigation continues into the dozens of unmarked grave sites at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna, and for every question answered, another obstacle seems to pop up.

The reform school, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, closed in 2011, amid suspicions of abuse and murder that took place for more than a century.

But local, state and federal authorities, along with University of South Florida researchers and the families of the deceased students, still want answers.

Last week, USF hosted a press conference to update the public on the investigation. During that event, relatives of the alleged victims volunteered to have their cheeks swabbed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. The DNA samples will go into a database to help identify the remains.

The investigators are still waiting for official permission to dig up the nearly 50 unmarked graveshafts -- 19 more than state law enforcement found in a previous investigation. In May, a Jackson County judge announced he wouldn't issue a court order allowing the exhumation, and just before the news conference, USF Assistant Professor of Anthropology Erin Kimmerle received a letter from state officials seeking more information about her request for a permit to dig at Dozier.

Kimmerle's team is reviewing the state's questions and plan to respond soon. If given permission to dig, she says it could take a year to complete the work. Any remains exhumed will have DNA samples taken and compared to the DNA samples of the family members. Remains that can't be matched will be reburied with an assigned number so if any families come forward in the future, testing and identification can be done in a proper manner.

Images of posters displayed at June 14 news conference, courtesy USF News:

Victim George Owen Smith

Victim Thomas Varnadoe (on right in photo)

Overgrown areas at Dozier

USF researchers map the site at Dozier

Letter to Mrs. George W. Smith

Unidentified funeral at Dozier

Boot Hill Cemetery site map

Trench showing soil patterns

Radar imaging of possible graveshafts

List of children for whom families are seeking repatriation