MARIANNA, Fla – A project began Saturday morning trying to find answers to what happened for decades at the Dozier School for Boys will begin.
Researchers have one year to complete their project and will begin digging up potential grave sites this morning and continue digging through Tuesday.
The response to the exhumation has been mixed, not only from people who went to the Dozier School, but from the people here in Marianna. Some say they are in favor of the project because they want answers as to what happened. Others say they would rather just leave this troubled part of history in the past.
"What are you going to do, you can't notify the parents, you don't know who they are," Tommy Moore, who attended the reform school, said.
Moore was sent to the Dozier School twice, for a total of nearly three years. He says that while he was at the school the first time, he endured two whippings that he will never forget. Those memories, he says, gave him the knowledge on how to avoid trouble the second time a judge ordered him to the school.
Once you learn the tricks of it, you had it made. My second time, I knew what to do. I played football, basketball, and baseball for them.
Researchers from the University of South Florida have spent months mapping out the area known as Boot Hill Cemetery, and even used ground penetrating radar to identify where potential graves may be.They will begin much of their digging in these areas. But those that went to the school say that bodies may be much more spread out.
"I would put it in the hundreds. If you went back in the records to see how many were sent to Marianna and then looked at how many left there, you'd be surprised. They wouldn't put them all in one place. If you tried to escape, they beat you, the dogs got you," Moore said.
"There are one-hundred something boys that are unaccounted for and that doesn't even include the last 50 years. There are hundreds more that were left somewhere," Roger Kiser said.
Kiser, who wrote the book "The White House Boys-An American Tragedy" is one that is happy that some families may finally have answers as to what happened to their loved ones.
"I think the families are entitled to the bodies of their loved ones. What are they going to find, I don't know," he said.
Many people that went to the Dozier School have said they take pride in the fact that they survived to share their stories. They say that at no point was it easy to make it out alive and it didn't come without a lot of pain, both physical and emotional.
"I was beaten so bloody that the nurse couldn't recognize who I was, and she knew who I was, knew me really well," Kiser said
Kiser says during his time at the school from 1959-1961, many kids at the school knew what was happening, but none of them would say anything for fear of punishment from leaders.
'We knew people were being taken out of the dormitories at night and many weren't coming back. Those that did come back would walk around almost with their heads down."
"If you tried to escape, the town of Marianna, it was a clique. People that turned you in, they gave them food. They were compensated nicely, but you never came back," Tommy Moore said.