Researcher, Sen. Nelson, Meet On Dozier

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Updated By: Julie Montanaro
April 15, 2014, 6pm

Scientists may ask for another permit to continue digging up remains at the old Dozier School for Boys.

Scientists from the University of South Florida met with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson today in Tampa.

Dr. Erin Kimmerle says it could take months to extract and analyze the DNA of the 55 bodies exhumed so far ... and they are not ruling out asking the state for permission to extend their work beyond an August deadline.

"I think eventually they're going to find another cemetery...because back then they did not bury the two races together...and so no telling what stories are going to unfold..."

Scientists also released a composite sketch that shows what a boy - whose body was exhumed at Dozier - may have looked like.

They continue to seek family members of boys who died at Dozier to try to match DNA.

Associated Press News Release

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- A researcher from the University of South Florida says a team of forensic experts are using DNA, skeletal analysis and digital x-rays to identify the remains from a former Panhandle reform school.

Erin Kimmerle said Tuesday during a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson that it will take months to extract and analyze the DNA from the 55 people exhumed from the graves at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Hillsborough County deputies are looking for relatives of the boys that were known to have been buried at the school.

Some former students have accused employees and guards at the school of physical and sexual abuse, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded after an investigation that it couldn't substantiate or dispute the claims.

Press Release: Office of Senator Bill Nelson

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants federal funds to help scientists investigate unmarked gravesites discovered recently at a shuttered reform school in Florida’s Panhandle.

Nelson says a team of researchers and archeologists from the University of South Florida needs those funds to finish the forensic work it started last year, and that money has been a lingering concern for the USF team that so far has identified numerous unmarked graves at the defunct Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.

Nelson informed USF that he’s written U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in support of the school’s application to obtain federal grant money under a program available specifically to universities and non-profits involved in exhuming bodies and identifying missing persons using DNA technology. The Department of Justice administers the grant program.

“Funding for this project will allow the medical examiner to exhume the remains so additional investigations may be performed in establishing the identities of the persons and in conducting further research to find surviving family members,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Holder today.

USF officials led by Dr. Erin Kimmerle applied for the grant late last month after Nelson’s office informed the school about the program. It is intended to provide up to $3 million for between two and four investigations that would involve DNA technology used to identify missing people.

At various times over the years, there have been allegations of abuse at the reform school, which opened in 1900 and was closed by the state for “budgetary reasons” in 2011. A local judge currently is considering a request by the medical examiner for an exhumation order.

It was last December that USF researchers announced they had found evidence of almost 100 deaths and 50 gravesites at the site.

Nelson’s office has referred allegations concerning a case of abuse at the school to state authorities. The allegations came from a Lakeland, Florida man, who said his father and uncle were thrown into the reform school years ago, and that his uncle died there under mysterious circumstances. The man now wants to find and exhume his uncle’s body.

“The reform school may yield some ugly reminders about our past, but we absolutely must get to the bottom of this,” Nelson said at the time.

Letter from Sen. Nelson to Attorney General Holder

The Honorable Eric H. Holder Jr.

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder:

I am pleased to write again in support of the University of South Florida’s efforts to obtain a federal grant. I understand the Florida Legislature has set aside limited funding in its most recent budget to support this research. Federal and state funding together would go a long way to support assisting the District 14 Medical Examiner and Attorney General of Florida in the investigation of missing and unidentified children who died under suspicious or unexplained circumstances at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. I respectfully reiterate my request for your speedy consideration of USF’s application for federal funding.

In 2011, USF started the task to document and identify the remains of the students who have been buried in unmarked graves at the reform school site. Some of these young boys died under suspicious or unexplained circumstances, making it is necessary to investigate the cause of death and identify these remains. Funding for this project will allow the medical examiner to exhume the remains so additional investigations may be performed in establishing the identities of the persons and in conducting further research to find surviving family members.

This research project is essential and will be in collaboration with a number of other agencies. Once this project is completed, a final report will provide a comprehensive overview. But most important of all, the families of the deceased will have closure.

Again, I encourage your consideration of this grant application. If I can be of further assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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