Researchers say they have found evidence suggesting that many more boys died on the grounds of a notorious Florida reform school than they had previously thought.
According to NBC News, the scientists have found 19 previously unknown grave shafts on the grounds of the reform school.
The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, also known as the Florida State Reform School, closed in June 2011 after state investigators and the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division confirmed decades worth of widespread abuse.
The state said that it made it’s decision to close the school based on budgetary reasons. Yet long before then, the reform school had been the target of investigations and lawsuits alleging not only physical and mental abuse but also forced labor, rape, and even murder of the young children sent to the school since it opened in 1900.
Writer Roger Dean Kiser, author of The White House Boys — An American Tragedy, a book about the horrors he experienced while incarcerated there in the 1950s, has called the school a “concentration camp for little boys.”
He wrote in the book, that “a devil was hiding behind every tree, every building and even behind every blade of manicured grass.”
They’re called the White House Boys because much of the abuse occurred in an 11-room building on the school grounds known as the White House. The White House is where many former students say they were beaten with leather straps.
Some of the students sued the state in 2010, but the case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.
Previous reports say that 31 boys were buried on school grounds, and that most of them died in a fire and an influenza outbreak at the school in the early 1900s.
However, researchers at the University of South Florida say that they now estimate at least 50 grave shafts in the area of the school’s cemetery and the surrounding woods.
Some of the graves may have been for more than one boy, the researchers said in an interim report released Monday.
Records recovered and examined by the researchers indicate that at least 96 boys and two adults died at the school from 1914 to 1973, most of which were African-American.
According to Erin Kimmerle, an assistant professor of anthropology, there may be other secret graveyards somewhere on the grounds. Because of the number of still-unaccounted-for cases and the practice of segregating cemeteries during the first half of the last century, it is possible to have other secret grave sites on the schools property.
It’s highly unlikely that they buried white and black children together, but as yet, the researchers haven’t found a segregated whites-only cemetery.
The research team used ground-penetrating radar and other methods to map the school’s cemetery and chemically analyzed the soil to identify the number of graves.
Christian Wells, the assistant professor who led the anthropological work at the site, said:
“We anticipated finding about 25 to 30 grave shafts, but in fact we found a minimum of 50.”
All of the graves were found on the north side of the campus in a place called Boot Hill. This is where African-American boys were segregated.
The report said, “many questions persist about who is buried at the school and the circumstances surrounding their deaths,” but Kimmerle said the team had determined that at least 20 boys died within the first three months of having arrived at the reform school.