Two sets of human remains unearthed at
Deborah Buckhalter / Jackson County Floridan
After three days of meticulous work with picks, shovels, trowels and
other small hand tools, University of South Florida professor Dr. Erin
Kimmerle and her team had reached two sets of human remains at the
old Dozier School for Boys by early Monday afternoon.
One set was uncovered at a depth of about 20-25 centimeters, and
about 30 meters away from the area of the cemetery which had been
marked with crosses years earlier in a memorial project carried out by
a Boy Scout troop.
The other set was about a meter down and a bit farther away. The first
set appeared to be that of a young boy, about 12 years of age,
The second set of remains had not been fully unearthed as of
Monday, and no conclusions could be drawn about those.
The discovery of the remains came as no surprise to Kimmerle;
preliminary work she had done in the cemetery months ago suggested
they would be there.
The team had concentrated on those two areas of the grounds and
one more. The third area also showed the evidence Kimmerle
expected--the remnants of a fence line that is of interest to her in
helping confirm the confines of the graveyard.
The goal of the exhumation project is to locate and, with the help of
family DNA comparisons, identify as many remains as possible, and to
potentially to draw some conclusions about how the people died.
Deborah Buckhalter / Jackson County Floridan
University of South Florida professor Dr. Erin Kimmerle, right, and Brett Harding of the District
5 Medical Examiner’s Office talk to reporters at the entrance gate to Dozier after the third day
of excavation work in the cemetery of the old school. Kimmerle is leading an effort to exhume,
examine and indentify all the remains in the cemetery, including those within an area that was
marked with crosses years ago and any others found in its larger known borders. The team
also expects to search other areas of the campus to see if other burial grounds exist.
With historic records at Dozier incomplete and sometimes in conflict, Kimmerle is attempting to perhaps reconcile the accounts.
The remains that can be repatriated with family for private burial will be sent home. Those remaining unknown will be reinterred in a fitting manner. The project began
after a family member of a boy who died there approached Kimmerle seeking her help in locating his relative’s remains, and afterward Kimmerle sought permission to
examine the grounds. A series of steps were taken to obtain it, in court and eventually through Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the rest of the Florida
With mud stains on the knees of their pants and clay caked on the soles of their shoes, Kimmerle and two members of her team emerged from the known cemetery at
the old Dozier School for Boys Monday to talk briefly with reporters. The other dozen or so stayed in the cemetery continuing their tasks. Kimmerle said large bone
fragments, a skull and some teeth had been recovered, along with remnants of a burial shroud, some pins associated with it, and some fragments of wood believed to be
what’s left of a pine box casket.
Kimmerle is hoping to have all of remains from the two grave shafts out of the ground before the end of Tuesday.
She will be back periodically to do more work with larger equipment that will be able to scrape some of the topsoil away, now that the probable depth for remains is
known, rather than having teams remove the top layer by hand as the first shafts were treated. This first dig was conducted in this way as a test of methods and to set
guidelines for future work.
The team includes several of Kimmerle’s graduate students, members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office-- with whom Kimmerle has worked several times in the
past—and at least one volunteer from the District 5 Medical Examiner’s Office.
Kimmerle, who suspects there are roughly 50 sets of remains rather than the 31 showing in record, expects to have the known graveyard clear by spring of 2014, but is
also looking at other areas of campus where interviewees have told her they believe others may have been buried.
She has control of the site for the next year, and said she is confident that field work can be complete by then. She will then concentrate more on lab work as she and
her students further study what they’ve brought above ground.
An additional family member of a Dozier resident provided a DNA sample this weekend in hopes that it could be compared with remains recovered on the grounds and
help Kimmerle in the overall goal of identifying those buried at the school. About a half-dozen people have provided DNA for comparison so far in the project.