A total of 55 bodies were recovered from the grounds of a former reform school. The remains likely belong to young boys who died while attending the Arthur G Dozier School in Florida. Although many of the graves were unmarked, the University of North Texas will attempt to identify the remains.
The infamous reform school was founded in 1900 in Marianna, Florida. At the time, it was the largest juvenile reform facility in the entire nation. Despite ongoing rumors of brutality and abuse, the institution remained open for 111 years. The facility eventually closed its doors in 2011, citing financial issues.
As the State of Florida prepared to sell the abandoned property, US Senator Bill Nelson fought to halt the sale. Although there are 31 marked graves at the site, officials believe 70 boys were buried in unmarked graves throughout the grounds.
Numerous former students have come forward to report witnessing and experiencing severe brutality, sexual abuse, and mental torture. Although the school was intended to house, punish, and rehabilitate, delinquent youths, it eventually earned a reputation as a “concentration camp for little boys”
Robert Straley was sent to the Dozier school at the age of 13. He recounts the wardens’ brutality:
“They were just totally out of control up there… The ones that got the most beating were the 11-year-olds. They liked to beat the little ones… “
Straley said boys who attempted to escape suffered the most severe punishment:
“If you ran away they would give you 100 lashes with this strap. I will never be able to forget this one boy. He was 15, I think – maybe a little bigger than me – and they had literally whipped the skin off from his lower back to below his butt. It was just like hamburger meat.”
Forensic anthropologists from the University of South Florida have recovered a total of 55 bodies from the school grounds. Twenty-four of the bodies were found in unmarked graves. Researchers estimate they were all buried within a period of 20 years between the 1920s and 1950s.
Erin Kimmerle, who leads the team of anthropologists believes some of the Dozier school boys died at the hands of the wardens. She sites several cases where families were given little or no information explaining how the boys died:
“Our purpose is to explain who these children were, what happened to them and to understand what the story is that should be told.”
As reported by Fox News, dozens of families have contacted researchers about boys who mysteriously died while attending the reform school. Ovell Krell’s brother George Owen Smith died at the facility in 1941. He was 14 years old. Smith said her family was given little explanation and they were denied access to the teen’s body.
Krell hopes her brother is among the 55 bodies discovered on the former Dozier school grounds. She would like to claim his remains for burial in their family plot. She said her family is just “hoping for closure.”