Rear Adm. John Kirby has been called "the most visible face of the Pentagon in years," and his openness and availability as spokesman for the Department of Defense since December 2013 earned him an ovation from the rigid Pentagon press corps when he announced he was stepping down in early March. On the eve of a keynote speech at the New Ideas Conference at St. Petersburg College on Friday, the Times talked to Kirby, 51, a St. Petersburg native, about military messaging, his popular Twitter handle, his mother's critiques of his television performances and his views on the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The conversation was edited for length....
02/25/15 Public Safety
Sen. Bill Nelson has asked the Department of Justice to look into the decades-old deaths and burials of boys at the state's oldest reform school in the Panhandle town of Marianna.
In letters sent Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder and to President Obama's nominee to replace him, Loretta Lynch, Nelson asked the Justice Department to include the reformatory deaths in its ongoing investigation of inmate deaths at Florida prisons....
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement wrapped up its investigation into a burial ground at the Dozier School for Boys in 2009, saying records showed 31 people were buried on the campus of the state's oldest reformatory.
But the discovery of 20 unaccounted-for dead boys prompted Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to call on the FDLE to take another look.
In a letter Wednesday to new FDLE chief Rick Swearingen, Putnam says the discovery by University of South Florida anthropologists of 20 more remains than the FDLE found in 2009 should be investigated....
02/18/15 Public Safety
The discovery of 20 unaccounted for dead boys at Florida's oldest reform school has Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam calling on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the new findings. In a letter to new FDLE chief Rick Swearingen, Putnam says the discovery by University of South Florida researchers of 20 more remains than FDLE found in 2009 needs new evaluation. " … I am requesting that FDLE evaluate the new findings reported by USF to determine whether or not there is new evidence that would otherwise warrant additional investigation," he wrote. FDLE found records of 31 burials at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna in 2009, but USF later unearthed 51 remains....
TAMPA — The ongoing investigation into a burial ground at Florida's oldest reform school has turned up possible buckshot in the remains of a boy who died in state custody.
University of South Florida researchers disclosed the find to aides of the Florida Cabinet earlier this week in an update of their excavations at the cemetery at Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. The pellet-shaped artifact was found near what would have been the boy's stomach....
Puzzle Pieces: Dozier's neglected cemetery yields more bodies than expected, but names are harder to find12/21/14 Human Interest
TAMPA — There wasn't much left of the boys.
By the time she came for them and brought them up from the earth and spread them on tables in a basement lab on Maple Drive in Tampa, they were in hundreds of pieces, some as small as a fingernail. All that remained of some of them could fit inside a lunch box....
12/18/14 Human Interest
MARIANNA — The darkness started to fall on the pines and the kudzu-covered fields and on the little cemetery when a thundercloud erupted in the distance, and everybody down in the graves stopped digging and looked up at the sky. "Was that thunder?" one of them asked. The last thing they needed was more rain, because more rain meant more mud and more mud would make it much more difficult to get the bones out of the ground intact and in time for the evening news....
10/08/14 Human Interest
Thomas Curry met his death by some railroad tracks near Chattahoochee in 1925, trying to run away from the Florida School for Boys. He'd served just 29 days for delinquency at the hellish reform school some 20 miles away in Marianna. The coroner who examined his body couldn't tell what killed him.
"(C)ame to his death from a wound to the forehead, skull crushed from unknown cause," wrote Chattahoochee coroner L.H. Sanders on the boy's death certificate....
09/25/14 Human Interest
TAMPA — The red dirt outside the little Panhandle town of Marianna continues to give up its secrets.
Researchers said Thursday they have identified the remains of two more boys unearthed from a graveyard at Florida's notorious reform school. The remains of Thomas Varnadoe and Earl Wilson, who both died under suspicious circumstances while in custody at the Florida School for Boys, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, will be returned to their families....
When Darrel Stephens got word that one of his officers had shot dead an unarmed black teenager, he knew he'd better hit the streets. He'd been police chief just three years, but he had quickly learned that St. Petersburg was anything but sleepy, that racial tension surged through sections of the city.
He bolted to the scene where a crowd, disenfranchised and enraged, was growing by the minute. As police took measurements and photographs, he walked among the residents, he recalls now, and was joined by City Council members and neighborhood leaders, all trying to keep the peace....
08/07/14 Human Interest
George Owen Smith was afraid of the dark, so he'd whistle Gene Autry songs, like country music could keep the evil away. Every night for 40 years after he died, his mother, Frances, would sit on the stoop of her home in Auburndale, listening for her boy to come whistling through the woods.
He was just 14 when he was sent to what was then the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna, in late 1940, and he was there only a few months when his mother got word of his mysterious death. His body had been found under a house in Marianna, officials told her, and was so badly decomposed that they could identify him only by laundry marks on his clothes, dental records and the color of his scattered tufts of hair....
08/03/14 Human Interest
Claude Neal couldn't read or write. He was short and scrawny, and scraped by, picking peas and cotton, mending fences and tending hogs, trying to provide for a wife and 3-year-old daughter against the tides of the Great Depression.
He died on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, killed by six white men who felt the need to send a message. They lashed him to a tree with tractor chains, cut him with knives, burned his flesh, and when he was dead, they turned him over to a mob of thousands, who poked him with sharpened sticks and drove their cars over his corpse before hanging him from an oak tree that still stands in front of the courthouse here, 80 years later....
08/01/14 Human Interest
Nowadays, the weathered roadside sign seems to beg for attention, but narrow your eyes and you can see better days. Better days, when Duncan Hines found Chalet Suzanne in the Florida hills and told all his friends. When Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore dropped by, when Robert Redford and Johnny Carson and Kevin Costner and Don Johnson clinked mismatched glasses and dragged their forks across secondhand china. And no wonder they came. Thirty Golden Spoons from Florida Trend hang outside the dining room, a testament to doing things right and long. For 83 years, Chalet Suzanne has kept the doors open. That's no small task in a state that's always in flux. Alas, things change, and Chalet Suzanne is closing its doors for good Aug. 10....
07/30/14 Human Interest
TAMPA — This past Christmas we bought for my middle child something called a Spooner Board, which is marketed as a toy for gifted children but is really just a sort of a curved plastic skateboard without wheels. She dragged it to the front yard and tried to scoot around, and was bored in about two minutes.
"We need a hill," she said.
"Get in the car," I said. To save Christmas, we drove downtown, to Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, home to the only hills I could think of....
A few years ago, Travel + Leisure magazine predicted that the "greatest luxury of the 21st century will be dropping off the grid," and that the future of travel would be so-called black-hole resorts, desirable for their total absence of the Internet and cellphone connections. I found this hard to believe at the time, in light of the modern tendency to document every turn of a family vacation on Facebook....