MARIANNA, Fla. -- After years of calling for justice— former students of an infamous Florida school for boys feel they’re being heard.
State researchers will return to the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna next month to investigate what could be more graves of former students.
Dozens were unearthed in 2015, kids dying under mysterious circumstances, in state custody.
In the 60s, Charlie Fudge spent time at the now defunct school when he was 12. He was one of many that have since come forward alleging brutal abuse by staff during the facility’s more than 100 years operating.
“Just physical abuse by these 6 foot, 200 pound men,” Fudge said. “I knew I could not handle another beating like I had endured.”
Fudge said he felt the new investigation at the site was proof state officials are finally listening to concerns.
Researchers from the University of South Florida are expected to begin work in mid-July. They’ll be trying to identify 27 "anomalies" discovered by a subcontractor doing pollution cleanup on the 1,400 acre property in March. Lawmakers approved around $800,000 to fund the investigation and potential excavation, in the last legislative session.
“Everyone is stepping up to the plate,” James DeNyke said, who also attended the school in the 60s when he was 15-years-old. “We’ve been fighting for this for the last 10, 11 years,”
DeNyke and Fudge are members of a support group dubbed The White House Boys, formed around 11 years ago. The name coming from a building on the property known as the “White House” where students allege the beatings took place.
“You don’t ever forget this,” Fudge said. “It’s something that sticks with you for the rest of your life. From the day you get here to the day you leave.”
Beyond the abuse, group members believe something even more sinister may have taken place at Dozier, suggesting the graves could have been used to cover up homicides.
“It’s more probable than not,” said Roy Conerly, another former student and member of the support group. “We’ve already seen things that were not right.”
State officials said Thursday, in a meeting on the upcoming project, they’ll wait to see what scientists find before involving law enforcement.
“The archaeologists and anthropologists will make a determination of what these anomalies represent,” Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee told the press after the meeting. “At that time, there will be a determination about whether the site is in fact a crime scene or whether that will be necessary.”
The White House Boys are hoping, at the very least, to find some answers and perhaps closure.
“I will never have closure, completely,” DeNyke said. “But I’m better than I was 20, 30 years ago.”