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Courts / Law

Dozier Task Force Holds Contentious First Meeting

Pool/Edmund D. Fountain/Tampa Bay Times
In a photo from August 2013, USF anthropology professor Erin Kimmerle walks through the Boot Hill cemetery at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL.

The Dozier Task Force held an organizational meeting in the Panhandle town of Marianna Wednesday.

Lawmakers created the task force to work on issues related to the Dozier School for Boys, a shuttered reform school that has been at the center of allegations about abuse and deaths of youths.

The task force is charged with coming up with a plan to create a long-term memorial to those who died at the school, as well as deciding what to do with the unclaimed remains of some children.

During a sometimes heated meeting that lasted several hours, a major disagreement among task force members was where to re-bury those who have not yet been claimed by family members.

Some want the bodies to stay on the campus as a reminder of what happened there.

However, others say the Jackson County site is too remote and a memorial built in a more urban setting would be better.

Jerry Cooper was sent to Dozier in 1960 for running away from home.

He feels those who died on the campus deserve to be buried elsewhere.

"I see no reason, whatsoever, to reinter these people, these children, back on this property. As far as I am concerned, it would be only adding insult to injury," Cooper said.

Others disagree.

Stephen Britt's uncle died at Dozier in 1946.

He fears moving the graves to another location would allow some people in Jackson County to forget what happened at the school.

"They want it to be totally eliminated. They don't want any reference of it being here. They are ashamed, but they shouldn't be. They didn't commit those crimes. Their ancestors did, but they didn't," he said.

The task force did agree that all unclaimed remains should be buried in individual graves, in case a future family member comes forward to claim them.

The next scheduled meeting of the task force is August 19, also in Marianna.

After public comment, a vote is expected on a possible memorial as well as the location of a potential burial site.

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