After months of back-and-forth between a team of anthropological researchers at the University of South Florida, excavating human remains will begin on the grounds of the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys starting Aug. 31.
The exhumation comes after several setbacks in the course of the research team's efforts to exhume bodies at the school. Earlier this summer, Secretary of State Ken Detzner rejected the researchers' request for a permit to exhume bodies, saying his department did not have the authority to grant such a request.
The Florida Cabinet, however, bypassed Detzner's rejection and overwhelmingly green-lighted the exhumation process in a meeting earlier this month.
A wave of relief washed over the former "Dozier boys" and their families after the Aug. 6 meeting when Gov. Rick Scott and theCabinet gave their full permission and more for a University of South Florida archaeology team to proceed with the exhumation of bodies in dozens upon dozens of unmarked graves on the reformatory's Marianna site.
"We have an obligation to the families and to our history to treat these remains with the dignity and respect they deserve," said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi at the meeting earlier this month.
The Dozier School has come under fire several times since it was founded 113 years ago in 1900. Allegations of torture and abuse, both physical and sexual, of boys living at the school became more common in recent years. The "Boot Hill Cemetery" is already widely known, but the possibility still exists of more burial sites scattered throughout the school grounds.
USF researchers believe there may be more than 50 unmarked graves at the school. The team has already been able to confirmthe deaths of 96 children who were sent to the school between 1914 and 1973.
The exhumation process, led by Drs. Erin Kimmerle and Christian Wells of the Department of Anthropology at USF will begin Aug. 31 and continue until Sept. 3. The two have been steadfast in their efforts to provide answers to the families of the boys who disappeared at the school and have said repeatedly that they will continue to move forward despite the various setbacks they've incurred on their journey to provide answers to the victims and families of the Dozier School for Boys.
Dozier has also gathered the attention of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who strongly advocated for providing answers as to what exactly happened at the reformatory school.
"This decision puts us a step closer to finishing the investigation," said Nelson after the Cabinet approved the exhumation process. "Nothing can bring these boys back, but I'm hopeful that their families will now get the closure they deserve."
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.