Lawmakers Seek Funding for Review at Dozier School for Boys

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) today said there is a federal grant program of some $3 million that might be available to help with the costs of exhuming and identifying bodies at the shuttered reform school in Marianna where unmarked graves have been found.
Federal funding is available to universities and non-profits involved in exhuming bodies and identifying missing persons with DNA technology, Nelson’s office was told by the Justice Department Friday.
Money has been a lingering concern for the USF forensic team seeking to continue its work at the reform school site, where they already have discovered numerous unmarked graves. There have been allegations of abuse at the reform school at various times over the years.

In a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department to Nelson, officials said there is a grant program – amounting to $3 million, according to its website - available for between two and four investigations that would involve the use of DNA to identify missing people. The agency said the deadline for the grant program is May 6.

See slide show for Nelson’s letter to Holder asking DOJ to assist USF, and the response received Friday.

Associated Press Release
March 25, 2013

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida senators are pushing for an additional $200,000 in state funding to inspect the site of a now-defunct reform school where an untold number of bodies were buried.

Sen. Kelli Stargel said Monday that providing the funding is "the right thing to do" and could give closure for families that lost loved ones buried in a cemetery at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. The Panhandle school at Marianna was closed in 2011, largely for budget reasons.

Stargel, R-Lakeland, says the Senate has recommended the funding.

Stargel says the funding would back an inspection by University of South Florida researchers who have been using ground-penetrating radar and test excavations to locate and identify gravesites. Officials believe there may be unmarked graves and unaccounted bodies of boys who died.

By: Gina Pitisci
March 12, 2013, 10:55 p.m.

Tallahassee, FL - Today, Attorney General, Pam Bondi's office, filed a petition to allow medical examiner, Dr. Michael Hunter, to exhume human remains for up to one year on the site of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. Local resident and mother, Debi Odom says that by exhuming the bodies from Boot Hill Cemetery and surrounding areas where it is believed there may be bodies of boys that were unaccounted for will help the community heal. She says "I had 2 sons that were murdered, here in Marianna and I feel for anybody that's lost a child, with them digging up over there it's sort of bitter sweet, you still feel that closure but you still feel that loss."

Other local residents have mixed reactions when it comes to the idea of exhuming bodies that have already been laid to rest. Marianna resident, Jeff Tyus says "if it will be beneficial to the parents or grandparents or whoever to give them some condolence then I agree with it, but if not, I think you should leave the dead alone." Campbellton, Florida resident, Keion Woulard states "when most people are buried, there is a reason, a justified reason, a death certificate that proves it, so without that, no cause, no information on who these people are, that just seems a little sketchy."

Darlene Ferrell-Neal says she knows people that worked at Dozier over the years and also met people that were in the school and supports the petition. She says "now that these things are being uncovered I think that the families would like to have some closure so it is a good thing that they are doing this so that they can investigate and allow these things to be brought to light."

The purpose of the exhumation would be to locate human remains in unidentified graves and conduct medical examinations and autopsies to determine the cause of death of the boys who died between the years of 1900 and 1952 at the school.

By: Julie Montanaro
March 12, 2013, 4:55 p.m.

Florida's Attorney General wants a court order to exhume bodies at the former Dozier School for Boys.

We talked with Pam Bondi soon after she filed that petition with the court.

Scientists have found evidence of almost 100 deaths and 50 grave sites at the now closed reform school.

Men who once lived there claim boys were abused by guards and buried in a cemetery known as Boot Hill.

The attorney general says the purpose of the exhumation is not to pursue criminal charges, but to pursue closure for families.

"We know that atrocities occurred at the Dozier School of Boys back in the early 1900's and many of these families need closure and it's only fair to them that they are able to hopefully identify their loved ones and get their remains." Bondi said.

"The only thing that the statute of limitations would still be available on is first degree murder," she said. "It would almost be impossible - the families realize that - at this time, because most of the workers there have passed away since then as well as the severe decomposition of the bodies," Bondi said.

Bondi says they have no idea how many bodies they'll find, but their goal is to identify the remains and determine the cause of death if possible. Bondi says they don't even believe the bodies were properly embalmed.

We'll let you know if a judge issues that exhumation order.

Press Release: Attorney General's Office

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office today filed a petition on behalf of Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Hunter to allow him to exhume human remains on the site of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. for up to one year. The petition seeks a court order to exhume bodies from “Boot Hill Cemetery” and surrounding areas, where it is believed there may be unmarked graves and unaccounted for bodies of boys who died between 1900 and 1952 at the school.

“The deaths that occurred at Dozier School for Boys in Marianna are cloaked in mystery, and the surviving family members deserve a thorough examination of the site,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “I am committed to doing everything within my power to support investigative efforts to help resolve unanswered questions and bring closure to the families who lost loved ones.”

The exhumation would be conducted in order to locate unidentified graves and human remains and to conduct complete autopsies and medical investigations to determine the cause of death of the boys.

Dr. Michael Hunter is the appointed Medical Examiner for the Fourteenth District of Florida.

In addition to filing the petition on behalf of the Medical Examiner to exhume bodies, Attorney General Bondi has also supported investigative efforts by working with the Department of Environmental Protection to support a 150-day extension of an injunction barring the sale of the state-owned land.

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