A research team from the University of South Florida announced they’ve found five more bodies at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, bringing the total number of burials to 55 -- 24 more burials than official state records indicate should be there.
Erin Kimmerle and Christian Wells held a press conference Tuesday to update the status of the excavation process, which began in September and continued through December.
“Locating 55 burials is a significant finding, which opens up a whole new set of questions for our team,” said Kimmerle, who leads the research team.
In the excavation process, the team of researchers recovered bones, teeth and numerous artifacts in all 55 burials.
Researchers will continue to search for additional unmarked burials on the school grounds and will use ground-penetrating radar analysis and specially trained K9 teams to locate burials. The team will also begin analyzing excavated skeletal and dental remains to help aid in identifying remains.
Further analysis will also help the team date the burials and discover the circumstances surrounding the deaths.
Kimmerle and her team began their research on the school two years ago, when they estimated there were up to 50 grave shafts in at the Marianna-based reform school.
The Dozier School for Boys has come under fire several times since it was founded 114 years ago in 1900. Allegations of torture and abuse, both physical and sexual, of boys living at the school became more common in recent years, and the calls to exhume bodies grew louder so families could get answers to questions about what happened to their relatives at the reform school.
Eleven families of former Dozier students have been found and the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office is currently undertaking the task of collecting DNA samples from them to help identify remains at the school. HCSO is still looking for other families in the effort to identify the remains of children buried at the school.
For the research team, the ultimate mission of the excavation process is simple -- they want to give closure to the families who have sought answers for so long.
“This project has always been about fulfilling a fundamental human right,” Kimmerle said. “Families, like all of us, have a right to know what happened to their loved ones.”
Orvell Krell, whose brother was buried at Dozier, said she hoped the process would give her answers.
“Like everybody else in this, we just hope we’re one of the lucky ones that get some closure,” she said. "[Finding my brother] would be the answer to many long years of hopes and prayers."
The team will be heading back to Dozier to continue their research in February.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.