Remember or forget?
Scott, Cabinet discuss Dozier’s future
COMPILED FROM WIRE
AND STAFF REPORTS
TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet began discussions Tuesday on the future of the shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a former state-
run reform school where children are alleged to have been abused and died.
However, no decisions were made as the state officials agreed to await a final report expected in January from University of South Florida researchers, who excavated
the 1,400-acre site about 70 miles west of Tallahassee and continue to try identify remains.
For decades, relatives of some boys dispatched to Dozier have struggled to find out what became of them after they went missing amid reports of beatings, torture and
sexual assaults at the reform school in Marianna.
Survivors who attended the school have described beatings, torture sessions, rapes and the disappearances of boys, many of them after they were taken from
dormitories or other school buildings for punishment.
Historical documents suggest that more than 100 boys died at the school. School records say 34 boys were buried on the grounds and 31 were shipped home for burial.
The remainder are unaccounted for.
From September to December 2013, USF researchers led excavations at or near Boot Hill, an unmarked cemetery on school grounds. Using ground-penetrating radar,
DNA samples and search dogs, they probed for unmarked graves of boys reported missing over the years. Bones, teeth and other artifacts were recovered and have
been submitted for DNA testing.
Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at USF, said researchers have completed their field work but left the post-excavation status of Dozier to state officials.
Researchers found the remains of 51 people at the site, of whom six have been identified.
“Of the six identifications we’ve had, four were to direct siblings. So, even though they are quite elderly now, it’s brothers and sisters,” Kimmerle said. “I know they are
extremely grateful to all of you (Scott and the Cabinet), as we are for the opportunity to take on this project and bring this history forward.”
An investigation by the U.S. Justice Department documented some of the abuse and led to the closure of the school. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement
concluded in 2010 that, although it found dozens of graves, there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.
What’s its future?
State Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who requested the Cabinet discussion, said after the meeting that he doesn’t know what the future holds for the property,
which Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam called the “gateway to Marianna.”
“I don’t know any one of us can answer that question by ourselves,” Atwater said. “I think it’s clear … the reality of economics, you also heard the importance of the
spiritual, there are people’s whose lives were lost there. How can it be a site for good in the future? What should be seen and known there? I don’t know.”
Atwater added that a funding request may be made to the state Legislature to help cover internment costs when remains are matched through DNA testing with surviving
Putnam, while noting some of the buildings have issues that range from asbestos to simple years of neglect, suggested the state consider recreational or educational
uses for the land north of Interstate 10.
“We all are painfully aware of the dark chapter that Dozier represents in our state’s history,” Putnam said. “This is our opportunity to bring that to a close and start a new
chapter, a brighter chapter for the resources on that parcel, for the community of Marianna.”
But Charles Fudge, a former resident of Dozier School for Boys, worried that the history of Dozier may be lost if the site is overly redeveloped.
“Until they find the remaining bodies, they should never let any kind of buildings be put on that property,” Fudge said. “Those boys … you know when we were sent
there, we didn’t expect to be beaten, and we certainly didn’t expect to die.”
Dale Landry, president of the NAACP’s Tallahassee branch, said Florida needs to pay costs, even if it’s capped at $5,000 per family, to help pay for transportation and
services when remains are turned over to relatives after DNA matches.
“Those remains are remains of Florida’s children and a few men,” Landry said. “We did not handle this ceremoniously from the beginning. We need to ceremoniously
handle this from now on.”
The state originally had hoped to sell the Dozier site, a move that was put on hold by the investigation.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner said after the meeting that his agency, which includes the Division of Historical Resources, would be able to handle any historical artifacts
and records, but so far hasn’t been given any such directions.
“I don’t have any plan,” Detzner said. “If they ask us to be a part of the process, the governor directs me to do that, we will.”
Jim Turner and Tom Urban of The News Service Of Florida contributed to this report.