State offers apologies, but future of Dozier site unclear

By Jim Turner

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - State leaders Thursday apologized for the past as university researchers released their final study on long-buried bodies unearthed from the
shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Northwest Florida.

Now, the state must figure out what to do with remains that have yet to be identified and with the 1,400-site in Jackson County, about 70 miles west of Tallahassee. The
site had been put for sale before excavation was ordered due to questions about whether boys were left in unmarked graves after suffering abuse and death at the
reform school.

After saying he was "sorry" for the generations of boys who endured whatever hardships may have occurred as wards of the state, Agriculture Commissioner Adam
Putnam said the state must find a use for the Dozier site, whether it be recreational, educational or even for veterans' services.

"The status quo is just not an option," Putnam said. "It would make it worse for it to turn into a caricature of itself, some haunted juvenile prison that just breeds more
rumors and mythology."

The state might even consider some way to memorialize the site, which served as a reform school from 1900 to 2011 and is now locked behind a high chain-link fence.
But Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Cabinet did not give direction Thursday after being presented with the University of South Florida researchers' 168-page report,
which doesn't verify any students were killed by Dozier staff.

One holdup may be the need for a chemical analysis of the site, as researchers located asbestos and other potentially hazardous materials in some of the older
buildings where a dorm fire in 1914 claimed the lives of eight boys and two employees.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said the research findings should help the state and community "put these atrocities behind us."

Scott said "people want to do the right thing."

There may be additional unmarked burial sites on the property where researchers, starting in 2013, looked for remains. But USF anthropology professor Erin Kimmerle
said that unless new information is advanced, "We feel our field work is done."

Researchers reported unearthing 51 sets of remains from an area known as the  Boot Hill Burial Ground. Seven of the bodies have been identified through DNA
testing, of which four have been turned over to relatives and buried in family cemeteries.

The rest of the remains are housed at the Tampa university.

Former students at the school, who have told researchers of boys being beaten to death, said any unidentified remains should be laid to rest outside Jackson County,
which includes Marianna.

"Do not return the remains to that area," said Jerry Cooper, a ward of Dozier in the 1960s. "A lot of these children were not buried in a proper Christian manner."

Dale Landry, president of the NAACP's Tallahassee branch, favored using a mausoleum at the Dozier site to allow researchers in the future easier access to remains if
identification can be made.

The report doesn't fully verify the atrocities alleged by former students at the facility, which was segregated until 1968 and housed minors for crimes such as theft and
murder, along with relatively minor offenses such as "incorrigibility," "truancy," or "dependency."

Researchers found records for nearly 100 deaths among boys, ages 6 to 18 between 1900 and 1973. Only 44 death certificates were issued, according to the report. At
least 45 people were reportedly buried on the school grounds between 1914 and 1952, another 31 bodies were shipped to other locations for burial, and 22 deaths did
not include burial locations.

Marianna City Manager James "Jim" Dean said local leaders want to work with the state to close what is a dark chapter in the community's history.

The site is on the south side of Marianna, just north of Interstate 10. Putnam once described the site as the "gateway to Marianna."

Elmore Bryant, a former Marianna mayor, asked if the local community could take control of the land.

"We will make you proud of what we do with that land," Bryant said. "As Martin Luther King said, 'It's never too late to make a wrong right.' I want to do that."