Possible graves found near shuttered Florida reform school where nearly 100 boys died
“Unmarked graves, by conscious design, are made to be hiding places,” Jack Levine, a Florida children’s advocate who had raised concerns about Dozier when he was a young social worker for the state, told the Herald. “What stays hidden almost forgives the crime.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded in 2009 that there were 31 burials in the reform’s Boot Hill cemetery. However, University of South Florida researchers – who have studied the campus extensively – found an additional 24 graves and unearthed the remains of 51 individuals.
The vast majority were boys who died in state custody and have since been returned to families or reburied in Tallahassee, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The reform school, located near Marianna, some 60 miles west of Tallahassee, opened in 1900 as a progressive alternative to the more brutal methods of confining delinquent youths.
In 2008, a group of men calling themselves The White House Boys – named after a squat, now-decrepit cinder-block building on campus called the White House – reported the atrocities they faced at the hands of the guards. They recalled seeing several graveyards on the vast rural campus.
It was permanently closed in 2011 after the state shuttered it under mounting public pressure.
In its report sent to the Department of Environmental Protection in March, Geosyntec, the contractor doing the pollution cleanup, said the possible graves did not follow any obvious pattern as a formal cemetery would.
“This randomness might be expected in a clandestine or informal cemetery, where graves were excavated haphazardly and left unmarked,” the report said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Bryant Middleton of Fort Walton Beach, who was sent to the school for “incorrigibility” in 1959, told the Tampa Bay Times that he wasn’t surprised more possible bodies had been discovered.
“We’ve been trying to tell the state of Florida that there’s more bodies out there for a long time,” he told the newspaper. “I’m in possession of a list of 130 some odd boys who died at the school or disappeared and whose last known resting place we can’t find.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis sent a letter Wednesday to Florida agencies directing them to work with local officials on the matter.
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