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Nelson wants Justice Department help in Dozier probe

by John Kennedy | December 12th, 2012

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, said Wednesday that the U.S. Justice Department should join an investigation into decades-old deaths at North Florida reform school.

Researchers from the University of South Florida have reported they uncovered at least 50 graves sites at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, which was closed in 2011.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement had sought to determine the number of graves in response to years of claims about child-abuse and deaths at the facility. FDLE determined there were only 31 graves, which coincided with state claims that most had died in a fire and influenza outbreak earlier in the last century.

The school was opened from 1900 until last year.

“For the sake of those who died and the family members still living, we’ve got to find out what happened at that school,” Nelson said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.  “I’m asking your department to provide support and assistance to
USF researchers in a broadened search to look for more graves, as well as forensic evidence of possible crimes.  The families deserve closure once and for all.”

Former students at the school went public with allegations of physical and sexual abuse in 2008 and then-Gov. Charlie Crist ordered FDLE to investigate. The agency found that 81 students died at the school over the years and 31 were buried on campus.  But FDLE found no evidence to support abuse allegations.

But last year, USF anthropologists and archeologists began their own investigation into the gravesites.

Researchers uncovered 50 gravesites – 19 more than previously identified by FDLE.  They also determined that more deaths occurred at the school than previously known.  They uncovered 98 deaths of boys between ages 6-18 in the years 1914 through 1973.

The research team released its findings Monday and plans to return to the site in January.

 

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