MARIANNA, Fla. --
The first round of digging at the former Dozier Boys School near Marianna
in the Panhandle is expected to end Tuesday.
Bay News 9 Reporting
Researchers from the University of South Florida have been excavating the site since Saturday. Additional
digging is expected to resume at a later date, said Erin Kimmerle, the USF anthropologist leading the excavation.
After work began Saturday, relatives of one of the boys believed to be buried at the school held a private prayer
at the grave sites. The family has provided DNA in hopes of finding a match with Robert Stephens. School records
show he was fatally stabbed by another inmate in 1937, but his family hopes to confirm how he actually died
through the exhumation efforts.
If his remains are found, his family says they will be reburied in a family plot in Quincy.
"That will be a great sense of homecoming," Tananarive Due said. The boy was Due's great-uncle. She was at
the site Saturday with her son, father and husband, and said she hopes that other families will also be able to
locate relatives buried there.
"Their families never had a proper opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. In a lot of cases children just
disappeared," said Due, who lives in Atlanta.
Former inmates at the reform school from the 1950s and 1960s have detailed horrific beatings in a small, white
concrete block building at the facility. A group of survivors call themselves the "White House Boys" and five years
ago called for an investigation into the graves. In 2010, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ended an
investigation and said it could not substantiate or refute claims that boys died at the hands of staff.
USF later began its own research and discovered even more graves than the state department had identified.
USF has worked for months to secure a permit to exhume the remains, finally receiving permission from Gov. Rick
Scott and the state Cabinet after being rejected by Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who reports to Scott.
"In these historic cases, it's really about having an accurate record and finding out what happened and knowing
the truth about what happened," Kimmerle said of efforts at the school, which opened in 1900 and shut down two
years ago for budgetary reasons.
Kimmerle said the remains of about 50 people are in the graves. Some are marked with a plain, white steel cross,
and others have no markings.