THE REMAINS OF 55 BODIES were found in makeshift graveyard at a former Florida reform school.
University of South Florida announced that an excavation of a makeshift graveyard near a now- closed reform school in the Florida Panhandle yielded almost twice the number bodies official records said were there.
“Locating 55 burials is a significant finding which opens up a whole new set of questions for our team,” said USF professor Erin Kimmerle, head of the research project.
The Dozier School for Boys was closed by the state in 2011, but a university was commissioned to look into deaths after the Florida Department of LawnEnforcement announced the presence of 31 official grave sites in 2010.
Located in the Panhandle city of Marianna; former inmates claim the school became infamous for accounts of brutality.
The team of more than 50 searchers from nine agencies dug up the graves to check out local legends and family tales of boys, mostly black, who died or disappeared without explanation.
“The only way to truly establish the facts about the deaths and burials at the school is to follow scientific processes,” Kimmerle said.
Excavation began last September with several artifacts from gravesites sent to the University of North Texas Science Center for DNA testing.
Members of 11 families who lost boys at Dozier have been located by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for DNA sampling. Researchers hope to find 42 more families for possible matching.
Research will continue in areas adjacent to the graveyard, dubbed “boot hill” by school officials and inmates a century ago.