Breaking: First remains exhumed at Dozier - WFLA News Channel 8

Breaking: First remains exhumed at Dozier

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MARIANNA, FL (WFLA) -

Tampa researchers have started exhuming the first human remains from unmarked graves at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

"The very small part we've seen so far, I would characterize them as large bone fragments or large pieces of bones," said Christian Wells, associate professor of anthropology at USF.

Wells said it appears the body was likely wrapped in a shroud in the 1920s or 30s because of brass pins they found with those remains.

"There's evidence that there, in this one case, was most likely a coffin of some kind," Wells said.

That's because researchers found evidence of burial hardware as well, which are things like hinges on coffins.

This is happening in an area that contains 4 to 6 unmarked burial shafts. It took researchers hours Saturday morning to use picks and shovels to get through the black, thick top soil. But once they made it to the sand, silt and clay beneath that this afternoon, they made the discovery.

"Excavation now that we're through the top soil is going to proceed much more quickly," Wells said.

Researchers believe there could be about 50 remains altogether that aren't identified by markings.

"Having done all this prep work and background work – we have a good sense of what's there," said Erin Kimmerle, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Florida.

"We approached this with the goal of identifying every one," Kimmerle said.

But she knows that likely won't be the case.

Researchers have DNA information for 10 families who never had firm answers as to how their boys died at the campus for juvenile delinquents.

"[In] a lot of these cases – the children just disappeared," said Tananarive Due, whose great uncle could be buried on these grounds.

Due's uncle was Robert Stephens, who died in Marianna in 1937.

"[His] official cause of death was a stabbing by another inmate…that's what it was listed as" Due said. "But what happened with a lot of these boys –who knows … how they died? That's one of the things I'll hope we'll be able to learn by studying the bones."

If researchers are able to identify Robert Stephens' remains, Due says her family would like to take them back to their family cemetery so he could rest in peace.

"That would be a great sense of homecoming," she said. "Families never had a proper opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones."

 

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