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More Possible Graves Found At Florida School

Apr 13, 2019
Originally published on April 13, 2019 9:19 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Workers have made a grisly discovery at a defunct reform school in Florida - 27 sites that may hold graves. The find isn't totally unexpected. Several years ago, researchers unearthed more than 50 unmarked graves that contained the remains of boys who died at the notorious Dozier School. NPR's Greg Allen has more.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Over the decades, until it closed in 2011, a series of investigations at the Dozier School found that boys - some as young as 6 and 7 - were subjected to harsh treatment that sometimes included severe beatings.

JERRY COOPER: These people were not right in the mind. I'm sorry.

ALLEN: Jerry Cooper is one of a group of men who, as boys, were held at the Dozier School. They've been outspoken about the abuse they received in a small white building on the school campus. The White House Boys, as they became known, believed that some children died from the abuse and were buried in unmarked graves at the school. Their accounts led a team of researchers from the University of South Florida to begin a search that eventually recovered the remains of 51 individuals.

That closed the book on the search for graves at the Dozier School until recently, when a company began working near the spot where the graves were found, an area known as Boot Hill. Using ground-penetrating radar, workers found 27 anomalies - sites, they concluded, that could be graves. Jerry Cooper, one of the White House Boys, says it confirms what his members have long been saying.

COOPER: We have, on a list, a total of 183 boys that cannot be accounted for, sir. I'm not surprised at all.

ALLEN: The survey of the area was conducted last year, and the report of the additional possible gravesites was filed in January. The information became public this week when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent a letter to officials in Jackson County, which now owns the site. DeSantis is asking the county to work with state agencies to handle the site, quote, "with the utmost sensitivity and care." Cooper has looked at the consultant's report on the anomalies. He says to him, they look like graves.

COOPER: Some of them are very shallow, which tells me this is a repeat of Boot Hill because we had a lot of shallow graves at Boot Hill - what we call hasty burials.

ALLEN: The work at the old Dozier School is going on as part of Jackson County's plan to redevelop the site. Deciding what to do about these and any additional graves found on the site may slow that down. County officials say they'll work with the governor to address all concerns. Cooper believes the state, as a former owner of the school, should take charge of determining how many boys died there and where they're buried. Greg Allen, NPR News.

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