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USF Researchers Submit Additional Info On School

By: Julie Montanaro; Associated Press Email
By: Julie Montanaro; Associated Press Email
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Associated Press Release

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Researchers at the University of South Florida have submitted additional information to the Florida Department of State as part of the school's application to exhume bodies at the now-defunct Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

The 15-page letter was in response to a request from the Florida Department of State -- which controls the property -- asking for detailed information in order to evaluate a pending permit application for the exhumation on the property.

USF researchers have verified the deaths of two adult staff members and 96 children between 1914 and 1973 at the Dozier School.

Researchers are also taking DNA from several family members of boys believed to have been buried at the school; the families want to rebury the remains once they are recovered.


Press Release: Bill Nelson

TAMPA – A team of university researchers will try to match DNA samples taken from the living relatives of boys buried long ago on the grounds of a now-shuttered reform school in the Florida Panhandle. It’s an important next step in solving the mysteries behind dozens of unmarked graves found at the site.

Forensic experts from the University of South Florida will begin collecting the DNA samples Friday from several relatives they have identified through historical records or who have come forward during the school's ongoing investigation into some 50 unmarked graves researchers discovered at the now-defunct Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.

Over the years, the reform school has been the subject of several major investigations stemming from allegations of abuse. Florida officials closed the school in 2011 following a state police probe into the latest such allegations that found no evidence of any crimes.

But that probe was called into question late last year when a USF forensic team began examining the site and found more unmarked graves than police had said were there.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) came to the school's aid after a Polk County man asked the lawmaker's office for help last year in locating his uncle's remains known to be buried in an unmarked cemetery on the grounds of the reform school.

Since then, Nelson has written the governor urging him to the back the school’s work. And he is pushing the school’s application for a Department of Justice grant he helped identify that would cover the costs associated with forensic research involving the use of DNA to identify missing or dead persons. Up to $3 million will be awarded to select applicants.

Last month, a Jackson County circuit court judge rejected a request by state Attorney General Pam Bondi to grant a local medical examiner permission to exhume the bodies buried on school grounds.

In his order, the judge wrote that either the local medical examiner or the state’s chief archaeologist could initiate exhumation without court permission . USF is now seeking permission from the state's chief archaeologist.

On Friday, the USF forensic team, which is led by Dr. Erin Kimmerle, will be joined by Nelson, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, two members of the Florida Legislature and representatives from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Kimmerle also will provide an update on the status of the school's investigation.

“The only way to give the families of these boys closure is for researchers to be able to carry on," Nelson said today. “That includes matching DNA that will be collected by the sheriff's office tomorrow.”

The group will gather at 1 p.m. in the Galleria at USF’s Research Park at 3802 Spectrum Boulevard. The meeting is open to media. A local Nelson contact is Digna Alvarez at 813-318-1839.


UPDATED by Julie Montanaro
June 4, 2013

There are now seven families hoping to retrieve the remains of loved ones buried at the old Dozier School for Boys.

University of South Florida researchers have asked the state archeologist for a permit to exhume remains at the Boot Hill cemetery there.

We reported it Friday and now have a copy of that application.

The application says there are now seven families asking for repatriation of remains and it indicates the University of North Texas would handle all the DNA testing.

The attorney general, the district medical examiner and the NAACP are all pushing for exhumations to begin.

"When you have numerous unmarked graves on state land, you need answers," Attorney General Pam Bondi said Tuesday. " Families need answers and these young boys deserve a proper burial."

A spokesman with the Florida Department of State says they will now evaluate the historical and archeological value of excavating and respond within 15 days.


UPDATED by Julie Montanaro
May 31, 2013

Researchers from the University of South Florida have requested a permit to start exhuming bodies at the old Dozier School for Boys.

The Attorney General announced late this afternoon, that researchers who have been trying to mark graves at the school, have applied for a permit from the state archeologist to begin exhumation.

Last week a judge refused to order the exhumations, but said the parties - including the family of a teen buried at the school nearly 80 years ago - could pursue other remedies.

The permit request comes on the heels of a meeting of interested parties on Tuesday.

We'll let you know what happens next.


UPDATED by Julie Montanaro
May 30, 2013

A Florida family - and the state's top cop - are intent on digging up unmarked graves at the old Dozier School for Boys.

A judge last week refused to order the exhumations. He warned the state to proceed with caution if it decides to disturb the dead.

Thirty-one metal crosses dot Boot Hill cCmetery at the now-closed Dozier School for Boys. The graves are not marked with names or dates and scientists contend there are other graves beyond the fence.

Glen Varnedoe wants to dig up those graves to find his Uncle Thomas. The 13 year old was sent there for trespassing in 1934 and died about 30 days later.

"I can't see this ... I can't see my search for Thomas stopping," Varnedoe said. "What I want most to know is that he is out of a lost cemetery or burial ground."

"We're not trying to redress civil rights wrongs. We're not trying to gain money damages," said Varnedoe family attorney Bob Bolt. "We just want to find out loved one and bring him home and bury him next to his mother in the Brooksville cemetery-- that's it."

The Varnedoes, the attorney general and the district Medical Examiner wanted a judge's okay to begin exhuming and identifying those bodies. The judge said no.

In his ruling, Judge William Wright said, "The medical examiner does not need a court order to carry out his statutory duties if human remains are found" and goes on to say "the denial of the petition is without prejudice to pursue other remedies."

The judge indicated the medical examiner would have jurisdiction over remains buried less than 75 years ago and the state archeologist would have jurisdiction over remains buried more than 75 years ago.

The Attorney General met with interested parties this week and is trying to decide what to do next.

"The Attorney General has been and remains committed to supporting any investigative efforts to bring closure to those families
with unresolved questions about deaths at the Dozier School for Boys between 1900 and 1952," said spokeswoman Jen Meale. "She'll do everything within her power to support those efforts, which does include the exhumation of those bodies so they can have autopsies and investigations done."

The judge urged Florida officials to proceed with caution, citing a case with these words: "The quiet of the grave, the repose of the dead, are not lightly to be disturbed. Good and substantial reasons must be shown before disinterment is to be sanctioned."

The governor signed off on $190,000 in the budget for University of South Florida scientists to continue excavation and research at the Dozier School.

We'll let you know what the Attorney General ultimately decides to do.


Associated Press Release

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A circuit judge is rejecting a request to exhume human remains on the site of a now-defunct Panhandle reform school.

Judge William Wright, who is based in Jackson County, ruled Friday against the request made by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Bondi's office filed the petition in March. There is believed to be unmarked graves on the school site.

Wright in his ruling stated that the case did not meet the "threshold" needed to grant the order. He said the medical examiner already has authority to inspect human remains.

But Wright at the end of his order urged officials to proceed with "caution" and quoted a 1949 case that stated that the "quiet of the grave, the repose of the dead, are not lightly to be disturbed."


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