Dozier School for Boys

Credit Michael Spooneybarger / Reuters/Landov

9:00 p.m. Update w/quotes from USF & other FL government officials

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other top state officials are being asked to grant a request from researchers to exhume human remains at the former Dozier School for Boys.

Researchers at the University of South Florida are fighting with the state over access to the grounds of a now-closed reform school.

For decades, the Dozier School for Boys was notorious for the harsh treatment boys received there. Now, a forensic anthropologist and her team want permission to exhume dozens of bodies they found in unmarked graves, but are meeting resistance from state officials.

White House Boys

Yoselis Ramos

The University of South Florida has sent a five-page, strongly-worded letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner, asking him to reconsider his decision not to allow the school to exhume bodies at a former state reform school, the Dozier School for Boys.

Detzner denied the request because human bodies are not objects to be dug up for research.
 
The university's general counsel pointed out in a letter sent Monday that USF does not want to dig up the bodies for research, they just want to return the remains to their families.

Katy Hennig / USF News

On Monday, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner turned down a request from USF researchers to conduct exhumations on possible graveshafts at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, leading Sen. Bill Nelson to "tweet" his disappointment with Detzner's boss, Gov. Rick Scott.

Nelson spoke out once again today, saying the buck stops with Scott.

"It clearly is, if not a direct attempt to sidestep, it is a lack of leadership," he said on a conference call from Washington, D.C.

"The people of Florida deserve the answers, the families deserve the answers - that's what leadership is all about and the Governor ought to step up and require this. He is the chief executive officer, he certainly can influence the Department of State.

Katy Hennig / USF News

The state has turned down a request by USF researchers to allow them to exhume bodies at the Boot Hill Cemetery at the former Arthur G. Dozier School in Marianna.

In a letter (see slideshow above) sent to anthropologists Erin Kimmerle and Christian Wells today, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said that by requesting permission to conduct exhumations, the "inquiry diverged from its original objectives."

He added that the state's Bureau of Archeological Research doesn't have the authority to allow the exhumation of human remains, "absent a danger to the grave site that actually threatened the loss or damage of those remains."

USF Dept. of Anthropology

USF researchers investigating grave sites at the former Dozier School for Boys have submitted more information to the state. They're hoping to look into a long-rumored second unmarked cemetery at the site.

Earlier this year, USF researchers investigating the Boot Hill cemetery on the grounds of the former reform school in Marianna submitted a request to the state to dig up suspected graveshafts to see if any of the young men who died under mysterious circumstances between 1911 and 1973 are buried there.

Last month, the state sent back a request for more information, and Tuesday, the researchers submitted a 15-page reply. Included in that reply was a request for access to a piece of land that could be a second burial site.

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.

The Tampa Bay Times tells how former Florida State University quarterback Vic Prinzi helped some of the troubled young men he coached at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna. Some of those boys were known as the "White House Boys," victims of alleged abuse by staff of the since closed reform school.

Katy Hennig / USF News

UPDATED at 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 29th:
1. WTSP reports USF researchers met with state officials, representatives from Sen. Bill Nelson's office and family members of "White House Boys" Tuesday afternoon.

USF officials issued a statement following the meeting:

While USF researchers, along with former occupants of the Dozier School for Boys, continue to try to find out what lies under the ground of the closed facility, some Marianna residents are voicing their opposition. A number say that their town is being unfairly demonized by the investigation, others wonder who is going to pick up the cost.

Katy Hennig / USF News

While researchers from USF continue to wait for permission from a judge to begin exhumations at the closed Dozier School for Boys -- as well as wait for word on how that work will be funded -- the University has released a trio of videos from this past Wednesday's tour of the grounds by a contingent that included U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

While state officials push for funds to allow a team led by University of South Florida researchers to exhume human remains at the shuttered Dozier School for Boys, a circuit judge must still decide whether or not to allow digging to begin. At the same time, Jackson County commissioners and a critic of the disinterment are reportedly teaming up in opposition to the investigative effort.

Sen. Nelson's staff photo

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.

Mark Schreiner / WUSF

The answers to the mystery of what lies below the site of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. -- as well as what happened to many of the young men who may have died and been buried there between 1900 and 1952 -- may be closer than ever before.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed a petition on behalf of Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Hunter to allow him to exhume human remains from the school's "Boot Hill Cemetery" and surrounding areas.

Edmund D. Fountain / Tampa Bay Times

A picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes, there's still something left to be said.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m., Tampa Bay Times photographer Edmund D. Fountain will discuss his work on the newspaper's much-lauded series For Their Own Good, about child abuse at the Dozier School for Boys in North Florida. The talk will take place at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, at 400 N Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa. It's free and open to the public.

Fountain will discuss Dozier project "not in terms of journalism but in terms of a creative, artistic perspective," he said. He and writers Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore have been documenting the investigation for four years and counting.

"Most newspaper photographers are lucky if they get six months to work on a story," Fountain said. "Four years is sort of unheard of."

Katy Hennig / USF News

Even as researchers unearth more information about what may lie under the ground of the Dozier School for Boys, the allegations of brutality that marked the reform school's history continue to also live on.

For months, a team of USF anthropologists and archeologists have been studying the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna - particularly the school’s Boot Hill Cemetery and surrounding woods. Now, with the release of its interim findings, Professor Erin Kimmerle says the question remains: just how many young men are buried on the reform school grounds.

University of South Florida researchers announced earlier this week that they’ve found evidence of around 90 deaths and 50 gravesites at the defunct Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.  Now, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is asking the Justice Department join the school’s anthropologists in broadening a search to look for more graves -  as well as forensic evidence of possible crimes.

Over the past decade, hundreds of men have come forward to tell gruesome stories of abuse and terrible beatings they suffered at Florida's Dozier School for Boys, a notorious, state-run institution that closed last year after more than a century.

Known as the "White House Boys," these 300-some men were sent as boys to the reform school in the small panhandle town of Mariana in the 1950s and 1960s. They have joined together over the years to tell their stories of the violence administered in a small building on the school's grounds they knew as the White House.

Katy Hennig / USF News

During its 111 years in operation, at least 80 young men died at the Dozier School for Boys in the Panhandle city of Marianna. Some died in fires, some from health problems, and some from violence.

Last year, citing budget cuts, the state closed the reform school.

However, decades of allegations of torture and abuse mar the school's legacy--as does the fact that some of the boys who died there found their final resting place in the unmarked graves of the campus’ Boot Hill Cemetery.

“Today there are 31 metal crosses in rows to commemorate the 31 boys that are believed to be buried there," USF forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle tells USF News. "But what’s sort of unknown is whether those crosses really correspond to actual graves.”

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