Dozier dig to unveil brutal past

Large bone fragments of human bones found in research area on Boot Hill Cemetery


MARIANNA, Fla. – Monday morning anthropologists continued digging in an attempt to figure out what really happened at what has become Florida's most notorious reform school.

It marks day three in the dig for remains of as many as 50 former students, all believed to be buried at the former Dozier Reform School For Boys.

The reform school opened in 1900 and it was shut down in 2011 because of budget problems.

But it was a school with a brutal past that left a generation of boys in Florida with life-long scars and they're the ones who called for this investigation.

Some researchers in Florida spent their holiday weekend, looking for buried secrets. 

They're hoping the remains will help unlock the secrets of what really happened on the grounds decades ago.

"The bones will tell the truth. They'll be able to study whether there was a fracture or a bone broken or whatever, and that will help bring out the truth and some closure to the whole situation," said Elmore Bryant, a member of the NAACP.

Over the last few years, dozens of former students have come forward with stories of how teachers and administrators beat students, sexually abused them and even murdered some more than 50 years ago.

For years, state officials insisted 31 boys were buried at the school but the bodies were never properly accounted for. Then in 2012, a team of anthropologists from the University of South Florida, made a stunning discovery. Using high tech equipment, they said they found evidence of at least 19 more bodies buried in the area.

Owen Smith was sent to the Dozier School for Boys in 1940 and his family never saw him again. School officials told them he died of pneumonia but another student told his family he was shot and killed by school administrators.

"I believe to this day, they shot my brother that night and I think they probably killed him and brought him back to the school and buried him," said Ovell Krell, Owen Smith's sister.

That's why the researchers are digging. They hope the remains they find in old graves will help paint a better picture of what went on.

"We approach this with the goal to identify everyone, and that's our objective. We know that realistically, that won't happen," said Erin Kimmerle, one of the researchers with USF.

This phase of digging continues through Tuesday. The researchers have an entire year to complete the project.