Remains of 55 bodies found near former Florida reform school

28 Jan

Excavations at a makeshift graveyard near a now-closed reform school in the Florida Panhandle have yielded remains of 55 bodies, almost twice the number official records say are there, the University of South Florida announced on Tuesday.

On a hillside in the rolling, tall-pine forests near the Alabama-Georgia border, a team of more than 50 searchers from nine agencies last year dug up the graves to check out local legends and family tales of boys, mostly black, who died or disappeared without explanation from the Dozier School for Boys early in the last century. The school, infamous for accounts of brutality told by former inmates, was closed by the state in 2011. The University of South Florida was commissioned to look into deaths at the school in the Panhandle city of Marianna, after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced the presence of 31 official grave sites in 2010.

State investigators initially located 31 suspected graves in the woods across a busy highway from the shuttered reform school. Kimmerle’s more detailed probes raised the number to 50 or 51 last year, and USF announced on Tuesday the searchers had found remains of 55 bodies.

Greg Ridgeway, acting director of the National Institute of Justice, praised Kimmerle’s work. He said the discoveries made by the USF team “will not only bring resolution to these cases but will add to our knowledge about investigations of missing and unidentified persons in jurisdictions throughout the country.”

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