Scientists prepare to exhume bodies at Dozier School for Boys in the Florida panhandle
By Carson Chambers
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MARIANNA - "You just get a funny feeling every time you come back here," said Marinna resident Elmore Bryant.
You can feel, taste and listen to the silence on Boot HIll. It's heavy, bitter, and deafening.
"Who's going to listen to you when you're poor, committed a crime and you're in an institution," said Bryant.
Wards of the defunct Dozier School for Boys, children, are buried in the Marianna, Florida graveyard. Ground-penetrating radar revealed nearly 50 unmarked
graves that the state never detected.
"Like a sorority or a fraternity, everything was closed-mouth," said Bryant, talking about his town.
Bryant, 79, grew-up in Marianna with the silence in the woods. He heard the hushed stories of boys who were beaten, tortured, or worse: Disappeared.
He says his town was complicit in keeping these secrets. "Nobody knew anything or was going to tell you anything," he said.
Bryant tells a story he heard about Dozier boys running away at night. He says a group called the "Dog Boys" would wait for them in the woods.
"The dogs would about tear them to pieces and they would holler and yell," he says.
"How many? What happened to them? Were there crimes committed?" asked U.S. Senator Bill Nelson standing atop Boot Hill on Wednesday.
Now, after nearly a century of quiet, Nelson, University of South Florida researchers and a Tampa Bay family searching to bring their loved one home, may have
made enough noise to answer these questions. They are pushing for a massive exhumation of an unknown number of bodies.
"We were uncovering what was clearly grave shafts," said USF's Dr. Erin Kimmerle.
Her team of anthropologists have spent months mapping the Boot Hill Cemetery. Their work turned up nearly 20 more graves than the Florida Department of Law
Enforcement originally documented. They have asked family members of missing boys for DNA samples to help them identify remains.
"If there were crimes committed, remember the statute of limitations never runs out on murder," said Senator Nelson.
Now a court order sits on a judge's desk. A signature would mean the USF team would return to the site to begin work.
The exhumations would require $200,000 in state funding. Senator Nelson says the federal government sets aside $3 million for cases like this to help identify
missing persons remains.
This is likely the last time our cameras will be allowed on the property, because once exhumations begin, Dozier will become a crime scene.
We also got our first look inside what's known as the White House. Adults who survived Dozier report being sexually assaulted and tortured inside small cells.
Their screams floated out through bars on the windows.
Now the White House and the rest of Dozier is abandoned and dilapidated. The buildings are peeling paint chips, the grass is overgrown, but the razor wire still
sits on top of a perimeter fence.
Now there's hope the truth will be unearthed.
Bryant has been listening for that truth his whole life.
"Who's down there?" asked Bryant, pointing the earth.