What's in Dozier's unmarked graves? - WFLA News Channel 8

What's in Dozier's unmarked graves?

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MARIANNA, FL (WFLA) -

Researchers from Tampa could potentially start to uncover the mysteries surrounding an old Florida boys school this weekend. Saturday morning, a team from the University of South Florida will start working toward exhuming unmarked grave sites at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, about an hour west of Tallahassee.

University of South Florida Associate Professor of Anthropology Erin Kimmerle is leading the project and is expected to tell News Channel 8 more about what to expect first thing Saturday morning.

There are 31 metal crosses in a section of the school site in question, but Kimmerle's team discovered at least 19 additional grave shafts in wooded areas outside the marked cemetery. Dozier school records show 84 boys died at the institution between 1911 and 1973.

Kimmerle is an expert on international human rights and forensic anthropology. Earlier this month, the Florida Cabinet gave her the green light to excavate the unmarked site in an attempt to return remains of children buried there to their families.

Three Bay Area families submitted DNA swabs earlier this summer in hopes they could match those remains through DNA testing.

The researchers say they will rebury unidentified remains they come across but with an identifying number so they could link them to other families in the future.

The Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott approved and funded the project. Just last week The Office of Justice Programs' National Institute of Justice announced a $423,528 grant award to also assist Kimmerle and her team.

Kimmerle, USF Associate Professor of Anthropology Christian Wells, archaeologist Richard Estabrook, Associate Professor of Anthropology Antoinette Jackson and numerous graduate students started examining the site more than a year ago.

They looked for anomalies beneath the surface using ground-penetrating radar which led them to 19 grave shafts, but potentially dozens more. They also believe there could be a second burial site in another piece of land on campus.

Adding to the cloak of mystery surrounding the school, former inmates have made claims of abuse and potentially even murder. Several of those, including members of a group called the White House Boys, are from the Tampa Bay Area.

In December 2012 the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released the results of its own investigation into allegations of abuse between 1940 until 1969. FDLE interviewed more than 100 former students and staff members, as well as family members of former students.

"The interviews confirmed that corporal punishment was used as a tool to encourage obedience, and there was little disagreement regarding the manner in which such punishment was administered," the report stated.

It went on to say former students were consistent in stating that punishment was administered in a building known as "The White House" using a wooden paddle or leather strap.

"Interviews were, however, inconsistent with regard to the number and severity of the spankings administered," it continued. "Although some former students stated that the spankings resulted in physical injury including blistering and bleeding, there was little or no evidence of residual scarring. Former students also disagreed with regard to any lasting psychological harm resulting from the corporal punishment administered during their tenure at the school."

Former students also reported they had been victims of sexual abuse by former staff members or other students.

"After the passage of more than 50 years, no physical evidence either supporting or refuting these allegations could be found," the report read.

FDLE reported the findings of the abuse investigation to the Office of the State Attorney, 14th Judicial Circuit, but prosecutors declined to press charges.

The report noted that Troy Tidwell, 87 -years-old, is the only surviving Dozier staff member associated with administration of the discipline in question. Tidwell declined to be interviewed by FDLE, according to the report, but did provide a deposition in a civil proceeding.

"He acknowledged having administered corporal punishment, but denied inflicting punishment which resulted in physical injury as claimed by some former students," the FDLE said.

Read the full report here.

The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys was a "high-risk residential commitment facility" that the state's Department of Juvenile Justice operated. Courts committed boys and men between the ages of 13 to 21. According to the state archives, it originally opened in 1900 as the Florida State Reform School. It was later known as the Florida Industrial School for Boys (1914-1957), the Florida School for Boys (1957-1967), and finally the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys until it closed in 2011.

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