When the doors closed on the century-old Dozier School for Boys in 2011, so closed one of the darkest chapters of Florida’s history.
But questions remained.
The reform school, which was tainted with allegations of abuse, torture, rape and death, was known to be the site where many of the boys died. A multipart series in the Tampa Bay Times, “For their own good,” told the horrific stories of many of the surviving “White House Boys,” or boys who made their way out of the school after being enduring the alleged beatings, sexual assault and what the survivors’ website calls the wounding of their souls.
When USF forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle heard the boys’ stories, she became interested and led a team of researchers to Marianna, Fla. where they studied the area. In a press conference in December, Kimmerle said the group found records of 98 deaths of boys between the ages of 6 to 18. Some had been sent home, and 31 graves had been marked.
But their research led them to find that at least 49 graves existed on the site, and possibly more.
On Wednesday, days after the Florida Senate proposed to grant $200,000 for furthering the study and weeks after State Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a court order for the bodies at the site to be exhumed, the USF team toured the site of the school with Sen. Bill Nelson, who expressed his support of furthering the research and has stated that the U.S. Department of Justice may have up to $3 million in funding, exploring the site where the tragedies occurred.
Once the court order is signed, the scientists can resume their research in exhuming the bodies, closing off the site from the public and becoming a crime scene. When the bodies are exhumed, DNA analyses will be conducted to identify them and bring closure to many of the families who sent young boys to the school that never returned.