Finally, Florida families whose sons and brothers died at the infamous Dozier School for Boys in Marianna may learn what happened to them. Attorney General Pam Bondi's entry this week into one of the state's most brutal chapters should lead to the exhumation of remains at the school's campus and provide a more complete account of who has been buried there. The information might not bring closure, as many of those buried there are believed to be victim of horrendous abuse by tormentors now aged or dead. But it is the least the state owes victims' families and history. Crimes such as these, committed at the hand of government, should never be ignored. A judge should grant Bondi's petition to exhume remains.
For much of its 111 years, until it was finally closed in 2011, Dozier was little more than a concentration camp for children whose crimes were too often inconsequential. It was not until 2008, when a group of men known as the "White House Boys" who had been confined at Dozier in the 1950s and '60s stepped forward and later filed a lawsuit that the full extent of the atrocities in more modern times became known. Tampa Bay Times reporters Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore embarked on an extensive investigation into Dozier's history. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate. But it wasn't until researchers at the University of South Florida began examining Dozier's grounds using radar that the extent of the government's centurylong ambivalence and complicity became clear.
USF's preliminary findings suggested as many as 100 deaths may have occurred at the facility — far more than the 31 FDLE suggested after an all-too-cursory investigation. And there's reason to believe that there are more burial sites and an untold number of unmarked graves, given that it would have been unlikely for black and white children to have been buried together in an era of segregation.
Now Bondi has asked the court to give Dr. Michael Hunter, medical examiner for Florida's 14th judicial circuit, permission to investigate clandestine graves for up to a year. She said she became involved after meeting with victims' family members.
Bondi should also be ready for what happens next. Should Hunter discover any cases that provide enough evidence to move forward with criminal investigations, Bondi should consider assigning it to someone other than FDLE. During its 2008-09 investigation at Crist's request, the agency failed to aggressively pursue survivors' claims.
It should not have taken this long for the state to welcome an honest accounting of the graves at Dozier and all that implies for a government that was entrusted with young lives only to allow them to be abused. Now that such an accounting could begin, Bondi should not relent until she is confident the state has learned all it can. Florida owes the victims, their families and other Dozier survivors no less.