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University of South Florida to exhume bodies from unmarked graves

Effort to exhume bodies has local residents upset

This photo appearing in the Miami Herald showed the grave markers near the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
This photo appearing in the Miami Herald showed the grave markers near the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

MARIANNA, Fla. – Researchers will spend the Labor Day weekend looking for unmarked graves at the site of a former school for delinquents in rural north Florida. The effort to exhume bodies has local residents upset.

Marianna and Jackson County, population 50,000, are about to become the center of attention. Reports of beatings and boys being sent to the Dozier School for Boys, never to return, have fueled speculation about brutality at the facility.

The University of South Florida will begin exhuming bodies from unmarked graves.

The majority of local residents are unhappy. They said the past is the past and should stay that way.

"I believe it's going to be a hornet's nest," said resident John Cooper.

"Things are different, people were different," said Glenda Retherford, a clerk. "It wouldn't happen today, I don't think."

"I mean, it's something that happened 50 to 60 years ago," said John Perkins, an insurance agent. "You know, let bygones be bygones."

In allowing researchers to begin exhuming bodies, Attorney General Pam Bondi acknowledged local concerns.

"Marianna, Florida currently is a beautiful place to live," said Bondi on Aug. 6.

The community is not universally opposed.

"I think they need to do it," said landlord Charlie Roberts.

But a local judge and county commissioners, all of whom must face voters, took a stand against allowing the search for bodies.

"What we are acting on are allegations made by criminals and juvenile delinquents," said Jackson County Commissioner Jeremy Branch.

About the time researchers wrap up their first day at the dig, parishioners at the church will hold a memorial service for the boys who never went home.

The look for bodies could go on for as long as a year, but finding out what really happened over the 100-year plus history of the school is likely to remain buried forever.

The state is spending about $200,000 to cover the exhumations. A federal grant will cover the cost of DNA testing, which will try to reunite the remains with a loved one's family.