A team of researchers from the University of South Florida is inching closer to answers about what really happened at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, shedding light on a mystery thats haunted families for more than 100 years.
The team of anthropologists, led by Drs. Erin Kimmerle and Christian Wells, met with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Tuesday in Tampa to provide updates on the exhumation process.
Kimmerle said the team has completed skeletal analyses of 12 boys whose bodies were excavated last year at the Boot Hill Cemetery. In August, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet gave their full permission for the USF team to proceed with the exhumation of bodies in dozens upon dozens of unmarked graves on the reformatory's Marianna site.
Kimmerle and the group of anthropologists teamed up with the University of North Texas Health Science Center to complete DNA testing on five of the bodies, but the names of the boys are currently unknown.
The possibility of a second burial ground is becoming increasingly thought of as more likely as researchers have determined the first seven bodies were all African-Americans. The theory is also common among those who attended the school, who believe there could be several burial sites in addition to the Boot Hill Cemetery.
"I think eventually they're going to find another cemetery, because back then they did not bury the two races together, and so no telling what stories are going to unfold, said Sen. Nelson.
Further analysis of the remains will also help the team date the burials and discover the circumstances surrounding the deaths.
In addition to the DNA testing, the team has also been using technology to reconstruct facial approximations of a boy buried at the school.
Kimmerle and her team began their research on the school two years ago, when they estimated there were up to 50 grave shafts at the Marianna-based reform school.
The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys has come under fire several times since it was founded 114 years ago in 1900. Allegations of torture and abuse, both physical and sexual, of boys living at the school became more common in recent years, and the calls to exhume bodies grew louder so families could get answers to questions about what happened to their relatives at the reform school.
That closure is the ultimate goal of the research teams excavation process.Sen. Nelson, who has been an avid supporter of the process, agreed.
"We owe it to the families, he said, To get to the bottom of this so that they can bring closure on what happened to their loved ones.