After months of back-and-forth and setbacks in their journey to exhume bodies at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, a team of anthropological researchers from the University of South Florida on Wednesday was awarded a more-than-$420,000 research grant by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The team, led by Drs. Erin Kimmerle and Christian Wells, has been working nonstop to provide answers for the families of boys who were sent to Dozier during its 111-year history. They will be exhuming remains from the school grounds and will attempt to link identities to the remains through DNA testing.
The $423,528 grant will help the team perform DNA testing and conduct forensic anthropological examinations of human remains for identification, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) announced Wednesday. The University of North Texas Center for Human Identification has stepped forward to perform all of the DNA analyses, compare the samples and enter the data into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
The NIJ offers an incredible program for cold cases and identification of missing persons.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, said Dr. Kimmerle.
According to a USF press release, the new grant was awarded through NIJs 2013 competitive funding solicitation, Using DNA Technology to Identify the Missing. Newer DNA technologies have become available in recent years partly because of NIJ-funded research and development, which has helped crime laboratories to successfully analyze aged, degraded and compromised biological evidence.
The grant 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.
The Dozier site contains a cemetery with 31 metal crosses, but the USF researchers have identified at least 19 additional grave shafts in several wooded areas outside the marked cemetery and believe there may be more than 50 unmarked graves at the school. The team has already been able to confirm the deaths of 96 children who were sent to the school between 1914 and 1973.
The school has come under fire in recent years for possible abuse, both physical and sexual, and possible murder at the school, which housed numerous amounts of boys from 1900 to 2011.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.