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USF researchers have found additional unmarked graves at Boot Hill Cemetery
in Marianna, Fla. KATY HENNIG/USF

U.S. Justice Department awards USF researchers grant for Dozier School project

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice has announced a $423,528 grant award to the University of South Florida to assist in the investigation of missing and unidentified children who died under unexplained circumstances and buried in unmarked graves at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla.

The objectives of this grant are to perform DNA testing and conduct forensic anthropological examinations of human remains for identification, the NIJ announced Wednesday. The University of North Texas Center for Human Identification will perform all of the DNA analyses, compare the samples and enter that data into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).

The project is led by USF Associate Professor of Anthropology Erin Kimmerle, an expert on international human rights and forensic anthropology, who earlier this month was granted permission by the Florida Cabinet to excavate the unmarked grave site in an attempt to return remains of children buried there to their families, who are being identified through DNA testing. Unidentified remains will be reburied under an identifying number in hopes of eventually linking identities to the remains.

The excavation project, funded and approved by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott this spring, is scheduled to begin Saturday.

Kimmerle thanked Greg Ridgeway, acting director of the National Institute of Justice and the U.S. Department of Justice, for its support for the Dozier project, and “U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for identifying federal funding opportunities and providing his support to the project.

“The NIJ offers an incredible program for cold cases and identification of missing persons,” Kimmerle said. “This funding is critical for completing the next steps in our research at the Dozier School for Boys including excavating human remains and performing a full anthropological analysis on them.”

The Dozier site contains a cemetery with 31 metal crosses, but the USF team has identified at least 19 additional grave shafts in wooded areas outside the marked cemetery. Dozier school records show 84 boys died at the institution between 1911 and 1973.

Working with USF Associate Professor of Anthropology Christian Wells, archaeologist Richard Estabrook and Associate Professor of Anthropology Antoinette Jackson and numerous graduate students, the research team began examining the site more than a year ago.

Using ground-penetrating radar to look for anomalies beneath the surface that could indicate burial shafts. Their work has identified at least 19 additional graves than previously recorded in school records. There is also speculation a second burial site may exist on another tract of land.

The new grant was awarded through NIJ’s 2013 competitive funding solicitation, “Using DNA Technology to Identify the Missing.” In recent years, newer DNA technologies have become available thanks in part to NIJ-funded research and development, which has contributed to the ability of crime laboratories to successfully analyze aged, degraded and compromised biological evidence.

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason, provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking.

More information about OJP can be found at For more information on USF’s findings at Dozier, view the research team’s report.


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Anthropology    
Author: Staff Report