After months of exhumation, USF researchers announced Tuesday they had unearthed the remains of 55 people — 24 more than state records originally indicated — at the gravesite of the Dozier School for Boys, a reform school that closed in 2011 and marks one of Florida’s darkest chapters of history.
The excavations, which will continue, did not come without hurdles, as state authorities did not initially grant researchers permission to begin exhuming bodies.
Researchers were finally able to begin last fall and have been using ground penetrating radar systems and K9 units to discover the remains of the boys sent to the reform school that is marred with allegations of abuse and torture.
Researchers will now work with the University of North Texas Health Science Center for DNA testing, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to help connect the remains with their next of kin, many of whom never received closure or answers after these boys were sent away to the school and did not return.
Further analysis of the teeth, bones and other unearthed remains will continue.
“Locating 55 burials is a significant finding, which opens up a whole new set of questions for our team,” lead researcher Erin Kimmerle, an USF anthropology professor, said at a press conference. “At this time, we know very little about the burials and the children in terms of who specifically was buried there, their ages or ancestry, as well as the timing and circumstances of their deaths. All of the analyses needed to answer these important questions are yet to be done. But it is our intention to answer as many of (them) as possible.”
— Staff report