Researchers at the University of South Florida say they have discovered the remains of 55 people buried at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. That's five more bodies than they expected - and 24 more burials than official records indicate should be there.
"Locating 55 burials is a significant finding, which opens up a whole new set of questions for our team," said USF Associate Professor Erin Kimmerle. "At this time, we know very little about the burials and the children in terms of who specifically was buried there, their ages or ancestry, as well as the timing and circumstances of their deaths.
"All of these analyses needed to answer these important questions are yet to be done," she said. "But it is our intention to answer as many of these questions as possible."
Former inmates at the reform school have detailed horrific beatings at the facility. A group of survivors who call themselves the "White House Boys" called for an investigation into the graves five years ago. In 2010, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ended an investigation and said it could not substantiate or refute claims that boys died at the hands of staff.
On Tuesday, USF researchers led by Kimmerle announced several key developments:
- The team recovered bones, teeth and numerous artifacts in every one of the 55 burials. The excavation work was conduced from September through December;
- Researchers will continue to search for additional unmarked burials on the school grounds, both in the areas adjacent to the Boot Hill graveyard and other areas of the school grounds. Over the next few months, fieldwork will resume, including additional excavations, ground-penetrating radar and the use of specially-trained K9 teams to locate burials;
- Analysis of the excavated remains is underway. Through this process, a summary report will be written for each body, including all of the information learned from skeletal and dental remains, artifacts and burial context. Bone and tooth samples will be submitted to the University of North Texas Health Science Center for DNA testing;
- Researchers will continue to work with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office to locate possible next of kin to collect reference samples for identification. So far, 11 surviving families of former Dozier students have been located and the sheriff's office is in the process of collecting DNA samples. Researchers still hope to collect DNA from 42 more families. Anyone with information is asked to contact Hillsborough Sheriff's Master Detective Greg Thomas at (813) 247-8678.