The news left Ovell Krell dumbstruck.
"I couldn't believe it after 73 and a half years of fighting and looking and hoping and praying," said 85-year-old Krell.
On Thursday, USF researchers announced they’d used DNA to positively identified remains from the now-shuttered Dozier School for Boys as those of George Owen Smith, her missing brother.
Krell vowed to her parents on their deathbeds that she’d eventually find him.
"I would look 'til I died. Well, I'm not dead but there was times I wondered after this many years if I was going to find him before I did
because Mother Nature has a way of getting ya'," she said.
"I'm just beginning to believe it,” she continued. “I wake up sometimes at night and think I've dreamed but then I say,
‘No, this is true,’" said Krell.
Owen was a ward of the state at Dozier School for Boys when he died mysteriously in 1940.
He was buried on school property with no headstone or death certificate before Krell's family could return his remains to Auburndale.
Now USF scientists reveal it appears the child was buried hastily.
"Rather than being laid out in a supine position, he was on his side, and against the edge of the grave, and it was sort of unusual," said USF scientist Erin Kimmerle.
USF scientists excavated the remains of 55 boys at Dozier's cemetery called Boot Hill. The number is more than the state had on record.
It turns out Owen's grave was the first they worked on. His remains had been there so long, a large oak tree grew on top of his shallow, unmarked grave.
"I think now they'll rest in peace," said Krell, smiling.
She plans to bring her brother back to Auburndale, lay him to rest with their parents, keeping her promise all these years later.
"Well, I'm going to put him at my mother's feet," she said.
USF's permit to dig at Dozier was to expire this month. State leaders renewed it upon receiving news of the DNA identification.