After five years of advocacy, investigation and a bid for the truth, exhumation of the graves of several young boys is underway at the former Florida reform school for boys and scene of alleged horrors suffered by the inmates there. The exhumation project taking place at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, in hopes of determining the cause of death of many of the boys after former residents of the school spoke out about the horrors they were subjected to.
Excavation is scheduled to continue until Tuesday with more planned in the future. The goal is to exhume between four and six boys so that their remains can be examined to potentially determine their cause of death. DNA tests will also be done to determine the identities of the boys as many of the graves are unmarked.
Suspicions of foul play arose after a large group of former inmates of the notorious reform school came forward in the last five years with allegations of horrific abuse, mostly taking place in the 1950s and ‘60s. The group, known as “The White House Boys” survived severe beatings said to have taken place in a white brick building that serves as the source for the group’s moniker.
Beatings were said to occur following even the smallest infractions within the school. There are accounts on the official website for the survivors of teenage boys being taken to the white building, laid face down on a bed, told to grip some bars and then beaten with leather straps until they passed out. In one account a young boy claimed to have been beaten so badly that he couldn’t remove his underwear afterwards. Other accounts include young boys having their teeth kicked out, lengthy stays in isolation, or being sent to the White House for crimes such as defending themselves against sexual attacks from guards or other inmates.
The reports were numerous, consistent and full of enough horrors to prompt investigations leading to the exhumation when grave after grave at the school were found to be unmarked or containing multiple bodies. The allegations of abuse have cast shadows of suspicion on the deaths of many of the children buried on the property.
There have been as many as 50 unmarked graves identified but there is suspicion that more bodies will be found in the future. Part of the suspicion stems from the fact that the school segregated their population racially and only one graveyard has been identified. It is suspected that another graveyard exists and estimates go as high as 100 more bodies. One former student even reports helping dig a grave in an area different than the main graveyard being investigated currently.
Investigation into the school have been ongoing since 2008. In 2010, an investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support or deny the allegations of abuse. The school was officially closed in 2011 due to budget constraints, though the lengthy investigation, failed inspections and continued mistreatment of the youth were likely major contributing factors.
The first body has been uncovered from its grave as researchers from the University of South Florida oversee the exhumation in the continued effort to document the horrors that took place over the entire history of this reform school. So far 10 families have offered DNA to help identify bodies and hopefully find answers to what their loved ones may have been the victims of.
Written by: Vanessa Blanchard