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Scientists Discover More Than 50 Unmarked Graves at Fla. Boys’ Reform School

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Dec 13, 2012

Scientists and researchers from the University of South Florida in Tampa said that 98 deaths occurred at a Florida boys' reform school between 1911 and 1973 and that the victims were beaten, raped and murdered, the Daily Mail (U.K) reports.

More recently, anthropologists from the university claim that they found of at least 50 grave shafts at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. (located six miles north of Jackson, Fla.), which is 19 more than had been discovered by a 2010 investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"We anticipated finding about 25 to 30 grave shafts," Christian Wells, an assistant professor of anthropology who was in charge of the anthropological work at the site, said. "But in fact we found a minimum of 50."

The article notes that scientists say that a minimum of 96 boys between the ages of six and 18 have died between 1911 and 1973 and that, two adults have died at the school. Many of the burials have not been documented but researchers believe that there may be even more victims since privacy laws forbid researchers to access records after 1960.

The Dozier School opened in 1900 but was closed in June 2011 by the Department of Juvenile Justice after it was at the center of a controversy related to physical and sexual abuse.

Just before the school was shutdown, a group of former students sued the state in 2010 but their case was dismissed because the statue of limitations had expired. Some students, however, have gone on to write books about their experiences at Dozier. Norman Whiddon, was interviewed by Tallahassee, Fla., CBS affiliate WCTV and described the abuse he suffered while he was a student at Dozier.

"You take a 350 pound man against a 125 pound youngin', who's gonna win? The man. I've had both of my arms broke on account of them," he told the station. Whiddon, 61, attended the school in 1964 when hew as 12.

"I've been beat from the back of my neck all the way down to my ankles with a leather paddle about that long, that wide with a wooden handle on it," he continued. "You could hear it hit the wall behind them, the ceiling, the wall, you, and then the wall behind them again. You had to lay down and put your hands on a metal bed while they done it."

Whiddon added that administration sent students "up on the hill to this little place and put you in a room that was about as big as a bathroom" with a bunk bed, toilet and sink. He went on to say that there wasn’t a blanket or mattress "just a metal bed to sleep on. That’s the kind of abuse they did to you. That’s the slate." He then recalls about a time he was "chained to a wall with a dog collar around my neck" and had his nose broken because he had to use the bathroom.

"The man wouldn’t let me go," he told WCTV. "He hit me square in the nose, broke my nose and told me don’t bleed on the floor. I had one of my arms broke on account of I didn’t cook a steak right for a staff employee. The instructor grabbed me by my arm and twisted my arm until my elbow snapped. He told me he’d teach me how to cook."

When scientists from the university were investigating the school they used technology, such as radar, that led them to believe there are more bodies buried at the school than what was organically reported. The Daily Mail notes, "the largest gravesite is on the north side of the campus, where African-American boys were buried. It is at this site where 31 graves are marked with white crosses, but researchers believe they do not correspond with actual burial sites."

As the Miami Herald reports, the school’s own documents state that more than 50 children were buried on the school’s campus and more than 30 other bodies were sent to a second gravesite. Administrators from Dozier, however, did not record the burial locations for 22 students who died on the site.

The reports also say that the school’s officials segregated the boys’ graves, as African-American students were three times more likely to be buried in an unspecified location than white children.

"I didn’t realize going in how much of a story of civil rights it was," Erin Kimmerle, an assistant professor of anthropology at the university, told the media.

According to documents, some of the children as well as the two adults died in a fire and an influenza outbreak at the school in the early 1900s. In January, researchers will go back to Dozier to investigate the boys’ living areas and they say they believe to find even more graves.

"We will continue to work with the researchers on how best to provide them access to the site," the Juvenile Justice Secretary said.

The report goes on to say that seven boys most likely died while trying to escape the school. The school’s documents on the incident state that children who escaped from Dozier died in a violently. For example, reports say that Thomas Curry allegedly died of blunt head trauma after he tried to leave the campus, while two other boys died of gunshot wounds to the chest or head.


  • Wayne M., 2012-12-14 20:10:18

    I have heard of too many cases of children and youth in orphanages or reform schools dying and being buried in unmarked graves or with very little love or care. This tells us something very disturbing about our culture, when people can pretend to be pro-life on issues of contraceptives and abortion and yet value the lives of the already born so lightly.

  • , 2012-12-22 12:03:04

    Thank you, Wayne. You are absolutey right.

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