Researchers say they have exhumed the remains of 55 people at Florida’s Dozier School for Boys, a notorious reform school that closed in 2011. The total found by University of South Florida researchers represents 24 more bodies than official records say should be there.
“They also found remains under a road, under a tree and spread throughout surrounding forest,” reports The Tampa Bay Times. “Only 13 were found in the area marked as a cemetery with pipe crosses, which is on a forgotten corner of campus.”
For years, the Dozier School has inspired stories of horror and sadness, told by the men who were sent there as children and by the relatives who sometimes never saw their son or brother alive after they arrived at Dozier.
Around 300 men have spoken out about their experiences at the reform school in the small panhandle town of Mariana in the 1950s and 1960s. And they said they were certain that some of their schoolmates had died as a result of the treatment they received.
NPR’s Greg Allen gave us some background on the institution last year:
“They’re called the White House Boys — a group of men, many now in their 60s and 70s — who were sent to the Dozier school when they were children. They take the name from a small white building on the school grounds where boys were beaten. Jerry Cooper was sent to the school in 1961. He says guards beat the boys using a leather strap.”
“These were not spankings. These were beatings, brutal beatings,” Cooper told Greg.
In a recent examination of the site, USF researchers used ground-penetrating radar to locate the bodies over the course of three months.
“Locating 55 burials is a significant finding, which opens up a whole new set of questions for our team,” USF team leader Erin Kimmerle said, in a news release about the findings. “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.”
Ovell Krell, whose brother died at Dozier more than 70 years ago – he was reportedly buried there before the family could come and view his body – said she never believed the school’s version of events, which claimed her brother, who was 14 when he died, had simply crawled under a house and not survived.
“It would be the answer to many a years of prayer” to find him, Krell tells the Tampa Bay Times. “I want to get him out of there and put him between my mother and daddy in Auburndale.”
The Dozier school and site has repeatedly been the target of state and federal inquiries. The USF team has been working to find the boys’ remains since at least 2012, when it announced the discovery of 19 more graves than had been reported.
To help identify the bodies the USF team found in its recent work, the researchers will compare samples with DNA collected from the families of boys who died at Dozier. The team says it recovered “bones, teeth and numerous artifacts in every one of the 55 burials” whose discovery was announced today on the USF website.
“According to state records, 96 boys died while incarcerated at the Dozier School for Boys,” CBS News reports.