NewsFlorida News


Former students worry LIDAR scans won't be enough to discover Dozier secrets

'You’re sending David in to fight Goliath'
Posted at 6:34 PM, Aug 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-26 18:34:45-04

MARIANNA, Fla. -- Another round of research is set to begin at the infamous Dozier School for Boys, where 55 graves were unearthed several years ago. 

Former students have alleged decades of violent physical abuse at the now-defunct reform school in north Florida. 

University of South Florida researchers spent weeks there this summer excavating 27 anomalies, discovered by a contractor working with ground-penetrating radar at the property. 

USF scientists didn’t find anything more than tree roots after a thorough evaluation. They’re about to try one more method, a surface scanning system called LIDAR which could identify undiscovered graves.

“It’s a different tool and it gives us a different type of information,” University of South Florida’s Dr. Erin Kimmerle said.

Kimmerle is leading the research. She hopes to compare the LIDAR data with some previous, taken before the 55 graves were unearthed.
“It’s like having a known,” she said. “Now we can compare that to areas that are unknown and see if there are similarities and differences.”

Members of a Dozier victim support group, the White House Boys -- named after the white building where students were beaten until bruised and bloody -- said they were happy to see progress.

However, they worried the LIDAR scans, which can't work in heavy tree growth, won't be enough. 

“There may be something in those cleared spots, we don’t know,” Roy Conerly said, a former student. “We do know where we think there are people for sure, in wooded areas.”

USF researchers said they’ve already done searches across much of Dozier with other scanning systems. If the LIDAR sweep finds any new anomalies -- a new excavation may follow. 

“You’re sending David in to fight Goliath,” Conerly said. “It ain’t going to work out the same.”

LIDAR scans are set to start in September. The length of the researchers' work will be determined by what they discover. 

State officials have said they’ll determine if a criminal investigation is needed, depending on what is found -- if anything.