Sen. Nelson Tours Dozier Site

Sen. Bill Nelson was joined by USF researchers Wednesday at the former Dozier School for Boys.


Photos and video: Katy Hennig | USF News


By Katy Hennig
USF News


MARIANNA, Fla. (March 28, 2013) – During a visit Wednesday to the shuttered Dozier School for Boys, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson praised the work of University of South Florida researchers who are trying to find answers to some of the questions surrounding the deaths of children at the school.


More than a dozen reporters and state officials gathered near rusted crosses at the Boot Hill cemetery to see first hand what the report issued by USF researchers confirms.


There are more burials than marked graves.


“There is a lot of smoke; if there is smoke, there’s fire and we want to find out what it is. This has been a place that has been shrouded in a lot of secrecy, starting from the early 1900s, and its time to expose this secret,” Nelson said while overlooking a newly determined gravesite.


USF anthropologists have conducted extensive research including ground penetrating radar (GPR) analysis, ground-truthing and historical archival research and have identified at least 19 more graves than previously recorded by school officials.


Erin Kimmerle, an associate professor of anthropology at USF, is leading the research team and what they’ve discovered so far has prompted Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi to file an order seeking permission to exhume the remains of boys buried on school grounds. The team is awaiting word from a judge to determine if the work will continue, while funding for the project is also pending in the state legislature.


Family members of boys who were incarcerated at the school dating back to the early 1900s originally contacted Kimmerle as well as Sen. Nelson urging the state to back the project in hopes of finding answers about their loved ones.


Nelson, Kimmerle and the group also visited the south side of the campus and accessed buildings associated with the history of the school, including a building known as the “White House” where children said beatings occurred.


After walking through the former reform school property and seeing the inside of the infamous White House, Nelson said he is more committed than ever to assisting USF researchers in the next steps of the investigation.


”Ultimately, I want justice to prevail. I want the truth to come out. I want closure for the families. I want accountability for those that might have been responsible, if crimes were committed here,” Nelson said.


Katy Hennig can be reached at 813-974-6993.