Forensic experts will return next month to the grounds of a notorious state reform school – where 51 sets of remains were unearthed in 2013 – to find out what lies in 27 additional sites.
University of South Florida anthropologists, led by Erin Kimmerle, will return to the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna starting in mid-July.
A ground-penetrating radar scan of the school grounds fixed on the new locations during a pollution cleanup in March.
A full survey of the entire 1,200 acres of the campus will take place using LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), which uses lasers to examine the ground to identify areas of potential irregularities that may require further investigation.
Kimmerle said that the work may take until the end of the year.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee said at a meeting in Tallahassee Thursday that once it’s determined what the below-ground “anomalies” are, officials will begin to establish the next steps, which could include further digging.
“The possibility that more graves may have been found near the Dozier School for Boys is something that we take very seriously and my heart goes out to all of you for whom this brings up painful memories,” said Lee.
The state has allocated $850,000 for the work in the proposed budget for next fiscal year, which Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign this week.
More than 500 former students have alleged brutal beatings, as well as mental and sexual abuse at the facility, which closed in 2011.
Charlie Fudge, who was sent to Dozier in 1960 as a 12-year-old, still recalls the beatings he and others endured at the hands of those running the reform school.
“Those boys, a lot of them probably died trying to get away from there. To have their bodies still there is very emotional, and very sad,” said Fudge.
In 2017, the Florida Senate and House passed resolutions formally apologizing for the abuse of juveniles sent to Dozier and a related facility in Okeechobee.
Of the 51 sets of remains that were removed from 55 graves in the Dozier cemetery, Kimmerle said last December that USF anthropologists have positively identified at least eight sets and returned them to their families.