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USF research at closed school praised

TAMPA, Fla. -- U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is supporting the work of University of South Florida researchers to locate and identify gravesites at a closed reform school in Florida’s Panhandle.

On Friday, Nelson was briefed on the project by Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at USF and one of the lead researchers on the project examining burial sites at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. Nelson had asked Gov. Rick Scott to grant the researchers’ request to remain on the state-owned land until their work is concluded.

Nelson held a news conference following the briefing at USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa.

“The only way to know what happened, and to bring closure to some of the families, is to give these researchers the time and access to finish what they started,” Nelson said. “We absolutely must get to the bottom of this.”

The Dozier School operated for more than 100 years. It’s unknown how many children died at the facility and what the causes were. Former residents at the school said staff repeatedly abused them and that suspicious deaths occurred.

The preliminary investigation of the site by USF researchers has revealed at least 50 grave shafts in the grounds around the school. School records examined by researchers showed nearly 100 deaths over the years.

Following a news conference in December, where Kimmerle and her team unveiled their preliminary findings, Nelson wrote the U.S. Department of Justice asking it to support the work and a forensic examination of any evidence.

On Friday, Nelson said he wants the Justice Department to assist the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in reopening its investigation into the Dozier School. FDLE issued its own report in 2011 and closed the case. He said the graves need to be located, the remains exhumed and identified and a determination made as to whether any crimes were committed.


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Anthropology Research