MARIANNA, Florida (AP) — On the second day of an excavation project, University of South Florida researchers worked Sunday on two graves at a former reform school in Florida’s northwestern Panhandle where students say they were abused decades ago.
The researchers continued the slow, painstaking process of unearthing remains in the hopes of identifying those buried at the now-closed Arthur G. Dozier School. The digging and work will go on through Tuesday.
Former inmates at the reform school from the 1950s and 1960s have detailed horrific beatings in a small, white concrete block building at the facility.
A group of survivors who call themselves the “White House Boys” called for an investigation into the graves five years ago. In 2010, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ended an investigation and said it could not substantiate or refute claims that boys died at the hands of staff. Robert Straley, a spokesman for the White House Boys, said the school segregated white and black inmates and that the remains are located where black inmates were held. He suspects there is a separate white cemetery with more bodies that hasn’t been discovered.
USF later began its own research and discovered more graves. The school worked for months to secure a permit to exhume the remains, finally receiving permission from Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet after being rejected by Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who reports to Scott.
Researchers plan to return to the site after the holiday weekend. The remains will be taken to Tampa to be studied. DNA obtained will be sent for analysis to be matched to relatives. Ten families have contacted researchers in hopes of identifying relatives that might be buried at Dozier.
If matches are found, remains will be returned to the families.