Marianna, FL — Florida will start exhuming bodies from the notorious Dozier School for Boys this weekend. Anthropologists will head the digging for what they believe are the remains of dozens of children who once attended the school.
The school closed in 2011 and the exhumations are the result of years of controversy surrounding the school. Nearly 100 children died while they were attending it, according to state and school records.
CNN reports that many of those deaths were the result of a dormitory fire in 1914 and a flu epidemic in 1918. But the state’s records don’t account for what happened to 22 children.
And no one knows who is buried where in a small patch of land deep in the woods on the school’s grounds. There are 31 white crosses in the small clearing to mark the final resting place for several unknown students.
While there are 31 crosses, a research team from the University of South Florida on a humanitarian mission to find out the truth at Dozier used ground penetrating radar to find 19 more bodies in the surrounding area. Those graves were unmarked.
The team found that a total of 49 graves actually exist in the area. But there are conflicting reports on whose graves they could be. Reuters notes that most of the graves are thought to belong to black youths whose families were never told why or how they died.
The initial investigation into criminal conduct at Dozier was closed in 2009 due to lack of evidence. But the USF researchers reopened the case after finding the 19 unmarked graves.
The exhumation was made possible after Florida’s cabinet declared that “there is no shame in searching for the truth.” USF was given a one-year permit to perform the exhumations and find out what they can about the boys who were buried there.
Along with examining bones, researchers will also extract DNA samples to compare with living relatives in an effort to determine the identities of the remains. And for those, like 84-year-old Ovell Smith Krell, whose brother died while at the school, closure will hopefully come from the exhumation and examination of remains.