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State approves exhumation of unmarked graves at shuttered reform school

Dozier School For Boys Marianna Fla

Dozier School For Boys Marianna Fla

State approves exhumation of unmarked graves at shuttered reform school 

Two cemeteries at Dozier School For Boys Marianna Fla., one for white boys and one for Colored boys and the murdered boys?

From Ryan Brown, Press Secretary

      TALLAHASSEE , FL — Florida’s governor and Cabinet voted this morning to issue permits to researchers at the University of South Florida to begin exhuming human remains from unmarked graves at the now-defunct Arthur G. Dozier School in Marianna, Florida.

“This decision puts us a step closer to finishing the investigation,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).  “Nothing can bring these boys back, but I’m hopeful that their families will now get the closure they deserve.”

Nelson and a number of other officials have been out-spoken advocates of allowing USF to complete its work, which was stalled by an adverse state decision last month. Today’s decision by the Cabinet comes after months of back and forth between USF researchers and other state officials.

In May, a Jackson County circuit court judge rejected a re-quest by state Attorney General Pam Bondi to grant a local medical examiner permission to exhume the bodies buried on school grounds. Just last month, the Florida Department of State denied issuing the permits needed to begin the exhumations.

The USF research team, led by Dr. Erin Kimmerle, is now expected to begin the exhumations later this month. The researchers will try to match DNA samples taken from the living relatives of boys buried long ago on the grounds of a now-shuttered reform school.

Over the years, the reform school has been the subject of several major investigations stemming from allegations of abuse. Florida officials closed the school in 2011 following a state police probe into the latest such allegations that found no evidence of any crimes.

But that probe was called into question late last year when a USF forensic team began examining the site and found more unmarked graves than police had said were there.

Nelson got involved after a Polk County man asked the lawmaker’s office for help last year in locating his uncle’s remains known to be buried in an unmarked cemetery on the grounds of the reform school.

Since then, Nelson has written the governor urging him to the back the scientists’ work.

He is still backing the university’s application for a Department of Justice grant he helped identify that would cover the costs associated with forensic research involving the use of DNA to identify missing or dead persons.  Up to $3 million will be awarded to select applicants.

Nelson went to the Dozier school site earlier this year.  And in June, he assisted researches in collecting DNA samples from living relatives at an event held at USF’s campus in Tampa.

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