TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida's law-enforcement agency chief was asked Tuesday to explain why university researchers found evidence of more deaths and more graves than previously identified at a now-closed state reform school in the Panhandle.
An interim report released Monday by the University of South Florida in Tampa said researchers found at least 50 gravesites at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, about 60 miles west of Tallahassee.
That's 19 more than had been identified by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in a 2010 investigative report
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Tuesday publicly asked the FDLE commissioner to look at the findings and report back to state officials.
"They both differ in a way that raises questions about why USF found so many more bodies than FDLE," said Putnam. "This is clearly a scar in Florida's history, and we want to know more about what happened."
FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, who was making a routine appearance before Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet, said he has still not seen the USF report.
"I don't know what their methodology is; I don't know what they did," Bailey said. "In order to give you an intelligent answer on that, I need to review their findings."
In its report, FDLE was unable to substantiate or refute claims that inmate deaths were caused by the school's staff or that staff members physically and sexually abused them. The school opened in 1900 and was closed last year as a cost-cutting measure.
The USF team, led by Associate Professor Erin Kimmerle, used historical documents to verify the deaths of two adult staff members and 96 children -- ranging in age from 6 to 18 -- from 1914 to 1973.
Records indicate that 45 individuals were buried on school grounds from 1914 to 1952 while 31 bodies were sent elsewhere for burial. No burial locations are listed for 22 cases.
The lack of information on who's buried at the school and how they died has led to "uncertainty, speculation, and folklore regarding these deaths," the university report states.
The gravesites were found in an area known as "Boot Hill," but the anthropologists suspect there may be more burials elsewhere on the 1,400-acre campus.
Then-Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the FDLE investigation in 2008 after former students from the 1950s and 1960s claimed they and other inmates were beaten and abused in other ways. They called themselves "the White House boys" because they said the abuse took place in a small white building on the campus.
The university report recommends further research including the use of ground penetrating radar in areas adjacent to Boot Hill, test excavations and the exhumation of remains for skeletal autopsies to determine causes of death.
The cemetery currently has 31 white metal crosses to mark graves, but they were installed in the early 1960s or mid-1990s long after the burials took place. The markers also do not correspond to the actual gravesites, which were not originally marked.
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