Florida allows exhumation at boys reform school

White metal crosses mark graves at the cemetery of the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida
White metal crosses mark graves at the cemetery of the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.

Declaring that “there is no shame in searching for the truth,” Florida’s Cabinet agreed this week to permit bodies to be exhumed at an infamous former boys reform school, to identify dozens of children buried and forgotten in woodlands decades ago.

The institution, the Dozier School for Boys, a sprawling juvenile lock-up near Marianna in the state’s Panhandle, was closed in 2011 after years of allegations it tortured boys in its care.

A small group of former prisoners applauded as Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet unanimously approved a proposal to let a University of South Florida forensic anthropology team conduct a dig at an area called “boot hill.”

Dozens of suspected grave sites, long unmarked, now have plastic white tubing in the form of crosses in the area — although no one knows where the bodies were buried or how many Dozier boys died there between 1914 and 1973.

Ground-penetrating radar has indicated that about 50 bodies may lie beneath the heavily forested hillside. Most of the dead are thought to be black youths, whose families were never told how or why they died.

Johnny Gaddy, a former Dozier student who attended the Cabinet meeting, said families were told “you’d better forget it” when they asked about the disappearances.

“In a state as old as Florida is, we’re going to have chapters in our history that we’re more proud of than others,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a cabinet member, said of the decision. “There is no shame in searching for the truth. The families of the victims, who want closure, who want answers, deserve those things.”

There is no prospect of prosecuting anyone for the deaths of the boys, but Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “All these kids, they deserve proper burials, and that’s what we’re going to give them.”

Researchers and students at the University of South Florida in Tampa found records of 98 deaths of boys between ages 6 and 18, plus two adult staff members at the school between 1914 and 1973.

The research, which included an examination of state death records, revealed missing, conflicting and “sloppy” record-keeping about the people buried at Dozier and how they died.

The most common causes of death were disease, fire, physical trauma and drowning. Seven boys died during escape attempts — including one 16-year-old who suffered gunshot wounds to the chest — and 20 died within the first three months of arrival, the report said.

USF professor Erin Kimmerle said her anthropology team can begin work soon in Jackson County. If bones are recovered, identification efforts will involve DNA matching with living relatives of the boys.

Kimmerle and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson visited the site last spring. Nelson has been pushing for exhumation of the burial grounds for several months.

“This decision puts us a step closer to finishing the investigation,” Nelson said in a statement. “Nothing can bring these boys back but I’m hopeful that their families will now get the closure they deserve.”

A Jackson County circuit judge last May rejected Bondi’s request for the local medical examiner to exhume the bodies. Secretary of State Ken Detzner last month also declined to issue permits for the search.

Tuesday’s decision gives USF a one-year permit to conduct the exhumation.

Nelson is backing a $3 million proposal for a U.S. Department of Justice grant for forensic research at the site.

State Rep. Alan Williams, chairman of the state Legislative Black Caucus, applauded the governor and Cabinet’s decision.

“I am hopeful that the results of the research will provide some degree of comfort and closure to the families who have lost loved ones,” said Williams. “This decision is a victory for the families who have long fought to exhume remains at the Dozier School for Boys.”


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Hillary Clinton headed to Boston for women's leadership…

Former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to visit Massachusetts Wednesday amid continuing speculation about making another bid for the presidency in 2016.

Local

The Boston Marathon: Step by step, the race…

For over a century, the Boston Marathon has been an event centered around sportsmanship, endurance and athleticism, but there’s no denying the face of the renowned race has been changed…

Local

Boston Marathon: Marathoners ready to run, honor victims

Scores of runners will cross the Boston Marathon starting line in Hopkinton Monday and embark on a 26.2-mile journey to Boston in honor of the victims.

Local

MIT student, Rhodes scholar, dies

Eliana Hechter, a student at MIT and Harvard, died, her family said. The announcement was posted on MIT's website.

Television

Discovery cancels 'Everest Jump Live' special in wake…

The Discovery Channel has indicated it will not be moving forward with "Everest Jump Live," a planned special about mountain climber Joby Ogwyn's effort to…

The Word

'X-Men' director Bryan Singer drama continues

  News broke late last week that "X-Men" and "The Usual Suspects" director Bryan Singer is being sued by a man who said Singer molested…

The Word

Miley Cyrus cancels more dates, tweeting from hospital

Miley Cyrus is reportedly so sick that she's had to postpone more tour dates. We know this because she has been sitting in a hospital…

Music

Loop are, er, um, back in the loop

Experimental noise rock band Loop's three mid-1980s to early-1990s albums, “Heavens End,” “Fade Out” and “A Gilded Eternity,” were mercifully reissued.

NHL

NHL video highlights: Bruins smack down Red Wings…

NHL video highlights: Bruins smack down Red Wings in Game 2

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox defeat Orioles, 4-2

Brock Holt the difference in the Red Sox' win

NHL

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump…

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump Bruins in Game 1

MLB

MLB video highlights: Orioles top Red Sox, 8-4…

John Lackey roughed up for second straight outing

Travel

Packing: The one thing you need in your…

A new survey that looks at the travel habits of 50,000 people around the world has revealed that Western and Asian globetrotters have different priorities…

Home

Is your chair making it hard to talk?

Ever wished there was an office chair that could make impromptu meetings and discussions more private? The Cristiana Wing Chair is an asymmetrical armchair which…

Travel

Live large at these luxury hotels

From Thai boxing lessons and macabre Dracula tours to the Australian Outback, the Four Seasons hotel chain launched a series of new travel packages this…

Parenting

4 things that every summer camp should have

Alan Saltz, director of the 92nd street Y program lists things that every summer camp should have.