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Primary Education News
News Florida to exhume remains found at notorious Dozier School for Boys
Dozens of unmarked graves found in woods near school for boys that closed in 2011 following pupils' revelations of abuse
Investigators have been given permission to exhume remains found at the notorious Arthur G Dozier School for Boys in Florida, which closed in 2011 following pupils' revelations of widespread physical and sexual abuse.
Governor Rick Scott and the rest of Florida's cabinet voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow dozens of unmarked graves found in woods near the school to be opened up. The decision comes after a team of researchers found evidence of almost 100 deaths at the institution.
"We are not exactly sure what happened there, but we know it was not good," Florida attorney general Pam Bondi said during Tuesday's meeting. "It's something we as Floridians can't ignore."
The University of South Florida was commissioned to look into deaths at the Dozier School, in the panhandle city of Marianna after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced the presence of 31 grave sites in 2010.
A team of anthropologists and archaeologists found that 45 people had been buried on school grounds between 1914 and 1952, with 31 bodies sent elsewhere for burial. There were 22 more cases in which no burial site was listed.
Of the 98 deaths they confirmed, two were adult staff members and the rest children aged from six to 18.
Many of the graves were unmarked and had been lost in the woods under brush and trees. Where causes of death could be determined the most common were infectious disease, fires, physical trauma and drowning, Erin Kimmerle, who led the investigating team, had previously found.
"It's a relief. The real work has yet to begin, but now we can move forward," Kimmerle said after the vote. "We will go slow and test our methods and really be able to make progress when it dries off."
Many of the victims were young black males who were sent to the reform school for seemingly minor offences such as truancy. Kimmerle's team found that pupil's deaths commonly followed escape attempts or occurred within three months of their arrival.
Dozier survivors, who call themselves the "White House Boys" – after a small outbuilding where beatings are said to have taken place – have come forward with stories of beatings, rapes and murders by staff during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Children as young as five are said to have been chained to walls or tied to a bed and beaten.
"I know of one that I personally saw die in the bathtub that had been beaten half to death," one survivor, Roger Kiser, told NPR in an interview last year.
"I thought he'd been mauled by the dogs because I thought he had ran. I never did find out the true story on that.
"There was the boy I saw who was dead who came out of the dryer. They put him in one of those large dryers."
Another former pupil, Marshall Drawdy, told the Florida Times Union that he say bodies "burned in barrels with diesel fuel".
"This decision puts us a step closer to finishing the investigation," said US senator Bill Nelson of Florida. "Nothing can bring these boys back, but I'm hopeful that their families will now get the closure they deserve."
Researchers are hoping to begin the exhumation process later this month, CNN reported. Despite the outrage over the dozens of bodies buried at the school, with former teachers mostly long dead, no charges are expected. The investigation may, however, allow families to reclaim bodies of their loved ones so they can be buried properly.