After years of pressure from families, the Florida Cabinet voted to allow researchers to exhume the human remains of dozens of children from the reform school called the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
More than 100 unmarked grave sites are on the property of the state-owned school, which was closed in 2011 after decades of allegations that it routinely tortured boys who were sent there.
John Bonner, a Dozier resident, told the Tampa Tribune: “A lot of us are seeking closure. A lot of people were abused there. A lot of people’s rights were trampled on. I was strapped with the belt so many times, one time just for looking at a supervisor the wrong way.”
Florida has blocked University of South Florida anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle from exhuming the reform school graves for many years.
State Attorney General Pam Bondi, filed a petition in March to try to convince Governor Rick Scott to allow the researchers to begin identifying the bodies using DNA testing.
“The deaths that occurred at Dozier School for Boys in Marianna are cloaked in mystery, and the surviving family members deserve a thorough examination of the site,” Bondi said.
Many boys who attended Dozier simply disappeared, leaving their families without answers about how, or whether, they were killed.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said, “This decision puts us a step closer to finishing the investigation. Nothing can bring these boys back, but I’m hopeful that their families will now get the closure they deserve.”
So far, researchers have been able to confirm the deaths of 96 children who were sent to this Florida reform school between 1914 and 1973.