USF researchers and volunteers begin to exhume graves at Dozier School for Boys

MARIANNA, FLA - They started early sifting through the dirt, in hopes of unearthing answers.

A team of researchers, students and sheriff volunteers led by Erin Kimmerle a forensic anthropologist at USF. Within the first few hours of the dig at the now closed Dozier School for boys, a discovery.

"On the more northern end we saw some hardware that looked like coffin hardware so we will find out what that is," said Kimmerle.

After the school permanently closed in 2011, Kimmerle's team identified at least 50 graves in the Marianna woodlands, many of them unmarked and now after permission from the state and a federal grant, the team is back this weekend, meticulously searching and looking for the remains of juvenile offenders who they believe vanished from Dozier more than half a century ago.

Some of those men's family members gathering at the grounds with their minister in hopes of finally getting some type of closure, even holding an informal prayer service.

Kimmerle hopes they can make a difference

We approach this with a goal to identify everyone we know objectively that won't happen," Kimmerle said.

But here's what one man thinks will happen.

"I think there at least a hundred more bodies up there that they have not found." said Robert Straley.

Straley is one of the White House Boys, a group of men who served time at Dozier and who say they were severely abused and beaten.

"I felt like I was beaten with a two by four. It was the most pain I had ever been in my life." said Straley.  

The group pushed for an investigation several years ago. Even though the FDLE could not substantiate their claims, Straley believes Kimmerle can by not only identifying remains but also determining how they died.

"She knows what she is doing. I just know she will find more bodies, I know she will," said Straley.

He also applauds lawmakers for granting her the permit to exhume the bodies.

"I have to give them credit. They had the guts to go in there and face this dark chapter in the history of the dozier school that is 111 years old no one wanted to touch that," said Straley.

The team will continue to work through Tuesday. Any remains will be brought to Tampa to be studied.
If they find DNA, it will go to the University of North Texas, where they will try to match the DNA with living family members who have already given samples.


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