Deputies, grad students helping at Dozier dig - WFLA News Channel 8

Deputies, grad students helping at Dozier dig

Posted: Updated:
MARIANNA, FL (WFLA) -

University of South Florida graduate students and Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies are all helping uncover the past at an old state boys school in the panhandle.

Erin Kimmerle, Associate Professor of Anthropology at USF, has a team of about 20 people helping her sift through the soil at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

One of them is Tom Pettis, a detective in the Hillsborough Co. Sheriff's Office violent crimes unit.

"It is part of history here and it's a quest for the truth as well," Pettis said.

He's helped dig into the ground around unmarked graves in which researchers believe as many as 50 different sets of remains could be. The school, under several different names, opened in 1900 and closed in 2011. State and school records show nearly 100 children died here. Many of those lives were lost in a 1914 dormitory fire and then a flu outbreak four years later.

But records can't account for 22 other children who died at the school and no one is sure where any of them might be buried.

"Often times justice comes in many forms," Pettis said. "I think in a case like this – justice won't come through the criminal justice system, but it'll come through the endeavor of the people we're working here with."

Pettis and other deputies are helping researchers collect DNA from family members to try and match those with the remains that could come out of the ground this weekend.

So far the teams have been working around 3 grave shafts and have unearthed one set of bones. According to Christian Wells, who is also helping guide the exhumation, the bones were likely wrapped in a shroud and could be from the 1920s or 30s. Kimmerle said her teams also found nails, handles and even wood from a coffin, which surprised her.

"I think that speaks well to the preservation we can expect going forward," she said.

Throughout the weekend volunteers like Pettis and Meredith Tise, a USF graduate student working toward a Ph.D. in anthropology, got to meet at least one of the families hoping to get closure. The Tananarive Due family came on site Saturday to say a prayer. Due's great uncle, Robert Stephens, died in 1937. His official cause of death was stabbing by another inmate but the family always wondered what the exact details were. They hope researchers are able to find him among these unmarked graves so they can eventually lay him to rest in a family cemetery.

"It made the project seem that much more important," Tise said.

Soggy soil from recent rains has made the work slow and somewhat difficult. Even getting to the first set of bones was a challenge.

"[The remains are] very deep so it was a lot of work to get down to that point," Tise said. "But once we get there, we can take a deep breath and really go slow to focus on where we're at to make sure we document it really well with photography and mapping."

Beyond the science, she understands there's a personal story behind what's out here.

"Knowing these remains were an individual and being able to bring them out and return them to their families – that's really special," she said.

  • 8 On Your SideMore>>

  • Back-to-School Tax-free Holiday is here

    Back-to-School Tax-free Holiday is here

    Friday, August 1 2014 11:37 AM EDT2014-08-01 15:37:09 GMT
    It's almost time to head back to school and that means it's time to shop.
    It's almost time to head back to school and that means it's time to shop.
  • Tampa Bay woman feels ripped off, pays $61 for coins worth $1.50

    Tampa Bay woman feels ripped off, pays $61 for coins worth $1.50

    Thursday, July 31 2014 6:10 PM EDT2014-07-31 22:10:55 GMT
    Vickie McInnis responded to a newspaper ad promising a chance to buy old, rarely-seen coins.Vickie McInnis responded to a newspaper ad promising a chance to buy old, rarely-seen coins.
    Vickie McInnis responded to a newspaper ad promising a chance to buy old, rarely-seen coins that have been sitting in a bank vault for years.With shipping, she paid $61.43. But, here's what she received: a bag of about 100 pennies, worth at most: $1.50.
    Vickie McInnis responded to a newspaper ad promising a chance to buy old, rarely-seen coins that have been sitting in a bank vault for years.With shipping, she paid $61.43. But, here's what she received: a bag of about 100 pennies, worth at most: $1.50.
  • Tampa Bay Water begins filling Bill Young reservoir

    Tampa Bay Water begins filling Bill Young reservoir

    Thursday, July 31 2014 5:45 PM EDT2014-07-31 21:45:52 GMT
    Tampa Bay Water is celebrating a rebirth of sort for its beleaguered Bill Young reservoir. TBW is now diverting water from the Alafia river and filling the reservoir after a massive gutting and renovation project that cost in excess of $124 million dollars.
    Tampa Bay Water is celebrating a rebirth of sort for its beleaguered Bill Young reservoir. TBW is now diverting water from the Alafia river and filling the reservoir after a massive gutting and renovation project that cost in excess of $124 million dollars.
  • NewsMore>>

  • Body found near Polk search area for missing girl

    Body found near Polk search area for missing girl

    Friday, August 1 2014 11:58 AM EDT2014-08-01 15:58:00 GMT
    A decomposed body has been found near the search area for a missing 16-year-old Orange County girl.According to the Osceola County Sheriff's Office, an unidentified, decomposed body was found by a citizen at about 9:30 a.m. on Friday on State Road 532 between ChampionsGate and the Reunion Resort.
    A decomposed body has been found near the search area for a missing 16-year-old Orange County girl.According to the Osceola County Sheriff's Office, an unidentified, decomposed body was found by a citizen at about 9:30 a.m. on Friday on State Road 532 between ChampionsGate and the Reunion Resort.
  • Back to School: Tips for affordable 'Teacher's wish lists'

    Back to School: Tips for affordable 'Teacher's wish lists'

    Friday, August 1 2014 11:47 AM EDT2014-08-01 15:47:24 GMT
    File Photo: Wikimedia CommonsFile Photo: Wikimedia Commons
    If you received one of those last minute "Teacher's Wish List" for back to school supplies, there are ways to fill it without breaking the bank.Mommy blogger and Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine contributor Laura Byrne recommends shopping with other parents at a warehouse store...
    If you received one of those last minute "Teacher's Wish List" for back to school supplies, there are ways to fill it without breaking the bank.Mommy blogger and Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine contributor Laura Byrne recommends shopping with other parents at a warehouse store...
  • Baycare Sports Medicine Conference is Saturday

    Baycare Sports Medicine Conference is Saturday

    Friday, August 1 2014 11:36 AM EDT2014-08-01 15:36:08 GMT
    The annual BayCare Sports Medicine Conference is Saturday, Aug. 9 starting at 8 a.m.This year, the topic is about keeping young athletes on the playing field and in the game.The keynote speaker is David Epstein, Sports Illustrated senior writer and author of the acclaimed book, The Sports Gene.
    The annual BayCare Sports Medicine Conference is Saturday, Aug. 9 starting at 8 a.m.This year, the topic is about keeping young athletes on the playing field and in the game.The keynote speaker is David Epstein, Sports Illustrated senior writer and author of the acclaimed book, The Sports Gene.
  • Sign up for WFLA News Channel 8 Email Alerts

    * denotes required fields






    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Gator comes to front door in Coral Springs home

    Gator comes to front door in Coral Springs home

    Friday, August 1 2014 7:17 AM EDT2014-08-01 11:17:15 GMT
    A couple in Coral Springs thought a raccoon was making noise at their front door but when they came out they found a large alligator there, WPLG reported. The alligator was about 9 feet long, according to the WPLG story.
    A couple in Coral Springs thought a raccoon was making noise at their front door but when they came out they found a large alligator there, WPLG reported. The alligator was about 9 feet long, according to the WPLG story.
  • Screams, panic caught on video as shark charges at swimmers near beach

    Screams, panic caught on video as shark charges at swimmers near beach

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 5:48 PM EDT2014-07-30 21:48:04 GMT
    Facebook image from Dan FlynnFacebook image from Dan Flynn
    A Florida beach cleared out – with the exception of a woman and lifeguard who tried to save her – when a shark was spotted heading straight toward swimmers on Tuesday afternoon. The panic of the 10-foot shark and people screaming from the pier was caught on tape.
    A Florida beach cleared out – with the exception of a woman and lifeguard who tried to save her – when a shark was spotted heading straight toward swimmers on Tuesday afternoon. The panic of the 10-foot shark and people screaming from the pier was caught on tape.
  • Giraffe dies after smashing head on low highway bridge

    Giraffe dies after smashing head on low highway bridge

    Thursday, July 31 2014 3:37 PM EDT2014-07-31 19:37:45 GMT
    A giraffe has been killed after smashing its head on a bridge while being transported dangerously on a highway in South Africa, wildlife officials said Thursday.
    A giraffe has been killed after smashing its head on a bridge while being transported dangerously on a highway in South Africa, wildlife officials said Thursday.
Powered by WorldNow

200 South Parker Street, Tampa, FL 33606

Telephone: 813.228.8888
Fax: 813.225.2770
Email: news@wfla.com

Can’t find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.