TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - For the first time in more than a half century, former students of the Dozier Reform School are telling the terrifying tales of abuse, torture, and even death at the facility.
The group called "Black Boys at Dozier Reform School" wants to access to the bodies of young boys to be exhumed from grave sites near the now-closed school in Marianna.
"Today we call on you Rick Scott, your Cabinet and the state of Florida, to give the necessary permits to exhume the bones from the graves of Dozier reform school," said Richard Huntley, the group's president.
Previous efforts to exhume the bodies have failed. Florida has records of 31 boys who were buried in graves near the school during the last century. But USF archeologists discovered as many as 50 more using radar around the overgrown area where the kids are presumed buried.
"This school destroyed the lives of many boys, black and white. I am back today seeking justice and closure," said John Bonner, a former student.
Johnny Lee Gaddy, a student at the reform school in 1957, recalled getting beaten in a dormitory, and being threatened with his life by a school guard named "Mr. Marvin."
"He said, 'Boy, you don't get back on that bed I'll kill you right now,'" Gaddy remembered. "And he had a belt that had holes in it. And every time he would hit me with that belt, it would suck the skin from my behind."
Gaddy said at one point he thought he witnessed the cover-up of a murder.
"I took a lot of garbage there all the time. But that particular time I saw a hand, a boy's hand," Gaddy recalled. "I asked, 'What's a hand doing in here?' He said, I'll tell you, don't ever mention that to nobody because you can end up like that.' So I didn't mention it to nobody. I was scared all the time."
Huntley said he hopes that people will finally understand the truth about what happened at Dozier.
"You speak of injustice. What do you think when children are beaten, raped, abused and worked like slaves," Huntley said.
The governor and the cabinet are expected to make a decision on Tuesday whether to allow exhumation of the bodies.