A school once known as the Florida School for Boys and later named the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys may have closed in 2011, but it has lived on in the memories of its students, ABC News reports. Forensic anthropologists and excavators led by Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida began digging on Labor Day weekend in order to exhume the 34 bodies known to be buried there, as well as any others they might find. Living students, who endured or witnessed brutal beatings there, question the circumstances of their demise.
“To date, the deaths of nearly 100 boys have been documented (62 percent were African American) and approximately 50 burials have been identified at the school burial ground called “Boot Hill,” wrote the scientists in their research initiative document. “White crosses commemorate 31 burials and were placed in the general area of the cemetery in the 1990s, decades following the actual deaths.”
From its inception in 1900, the school was intended as “a refuge for troubled children convicted of crimes,” wrote the researchers. The institution covers 1,400 acres near the Alabama border. One of the school’s former students, Robert Strayley, 66, remembers the grounds as beautiful. He arrived at the school in 1963 (aged 13) after running away from his family’s Tampa home several times and was on the receiving end of many floggings throughout his 10-month stay.
"Even after they banned flogging in 1922, by Gov. (Cary) Hardee, as being too cruel punishment for even the most hardened criminal, it went on at this boy's school," Straley, who survived routine beatings in a white concrete block building known as ‘the white house,’ stated in a press release.
Given approval from the Florida legislature, the forensic anthropologists began their work in 2011. Using ground-penetrating radar, they discovered 19 more remains than previously thought to have been buried on the school grounds during the course of its 111-year history. Kimmerle, CNN News reports, worked on an international forensics team that unearthed evidence of mass graves used in Yugoslavian war crime trials after the ethnic conflict in which four million people were displaced.
So far, the excavation team has unearthed the skeletal remains of two boys. DNA analysis should determine more about their lives and deaths.