Ben Montgomery, Times Staff Writer

Ben Montgomery

Ben Montgomery is an enterprise reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and founder of the narrative journalism website Gangrey.com.

Montgomery grew up in Oklahoma and studied journalism at Arkansas Tech University, where he played defensive back for the football team, the Wonder Boys. He worked for the Courier in Russellville, Ark., the Standard-Times in San Angelo, Texas, the Times Herald-Record in New York's Hudson River Valley and the Tampa Tribune before joining the Times in 2006.

In 2010, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting and won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for a series called "For Their Own Good," about abuse at Florida's oldest reform school. He lives in Tampa with his wife, Jennifer, and three children.

Email: bmontgomery@tampabay.com

Twitter: @Gangrey

  1. Early lab work suggests existence of undiscovered Dozier cemetery

    Crime

    TAMPA — Coffin nail by coffin nail and bone fragment by bone fragment, University of South Florida forensic anthropologists are learning more about the identities of remains exhumed months ago from a hidden cemetery at the state's longest-running and most criticized reform school.

    Researchers have so far analyzed 12 of the 55 sets of remains unearthed at the former Dozier School for Boys, developing biological profiles and establishing theories about date of burial, age and race. They've received DNA analysis from the University of North Texas Health Science Center on five of the bodies, but have not yet identified any of the boys....

    An artist's rendering provided by USF shows what one of victims at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys may have looked like based on forensic evidence unearthed at the school.
  2. Nelson seeks help in Pennsylvania to exhume boy who died at Dozier

    Public Safety

    When 15-year-old Thomas Curry was found dead in 1925, not long after he had run away from Florida's reform school in Marianna, the coroner's jury determined he "came to his death from a wound on forehead: skull crushed from an unknown cause." His body was buried in Philadelphia.

    Now, a team of University of South Florida forensic anthropologists, backed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, are asking the Pennsylvania state police to help them find and exhume Curry's remains for an autopsy. Nelson has asked Gov. Tom Corbett for his assistance....

  3. After 'Shark Tank' spot, balloon business takes a nasty twist (video)

    Human Interest

    LAND O'LAKES — If you believe the clowns, everything was hunky-dory until 2007, when Ben Alexander came along.

    A dedicated clown could work a restaurant for a couple of hours, twist a T. rex or a Super Mario — really innovative stuff, not just one-balloon wiener dogs or swords — and walk home with a hundred bucks. The restaurants paid, so parents didn't have to worry about scrambling for tips. The clowns weren't going to get rich, but it was a living....

    Ben Alexander makes a corsage for Jessica, 8, and a heart for her older sister, Tiffany, 11, while they were dining with their grandparents, Carol and Stephen Finkelstein.
  4. Raped as a boy at Dozier, he seeks pardon for crimes as a man

    Criminal

    TALLAHASSEE

    Freddie Williams has spent most of his 68 years in the custody of the state of Florida. Prison walls and razor wire are the landscape of his life. Given his criminal record — the rape of a 23-year-old Pinellas Park woman at gunpoint in 1973, and armed robbery in 1985 — his chance for parole on a recent morning was slim.

    But there's more to Freddie Williams' story than his record....

  5. Critics say adding duty to retreat would better Florida's 'stand your ground' law

    Criminal

    In April 2005, as legislators moved closer to passing a bill that would become known as Florida's "stand your ground" law, then-Rep. Dan Gelber proposed a simple, 54-word amendment.

    The gist: If you're attacked and you can safely escape without killing someone or risking death yourself, you should.

    "It may be somebody that deserves it," Gelber said Wednesday. "But at the end of the day, if you can walk away safely or resist the impulse to kill, I think you ought to."...

    Last week, a jury deadlocked on Michael Dunn’s murder charge in a teen’s shooting.
  6. Thriving Florida tourism impervious to anger over Stand Your Ground law

    Tourism

    Even before jurors reached a verdict in Florida vs. Michael Dunn, who said he killed a black teenager in Jacksonville in self-defense last year, people took to social media to bash Florida and call again for a boycott of the Sunshine State.

    "Tell everyone you know to vacation somewhere else," wrote Twitter user Mary Graham of Michigan. "Only MONEY will change the stand your ground laws!"

    "If Florida somehow screws up the #DunnTrial then I propose an economic boycott of the state. Pathetic," wrote user Matthew Gregson of North Carolina....

    Michael Dunn takes the stand in his own defense Tuesday during his trial in Jacksonville. Dunn is charged with fatally shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis after an argument over loud music outside a Jacksonville convenience store.
  7. Cadaver dogs helping with search for bodies at Dozier School

    Human Interest

    MARIANNA — A spot of buried blood. A drop of subsurface semen. A bone fragment in the ground for decades.

    Those are things cadaver dogs have been trained to smell, according to handlers from NecroSearch International, a nonprofit group enlisted to help find the bodies of boys who died in custody of the state's oldest reform school here on the outskirts of town.

    The search continues this week for boys buried outside the known cemetery on the campus of the now-shuttered Dozier School for Boys, known through the years as the Florida Industrial School and the Florida School for Boys. ...

    Marian Beland of Somersville, Conn., and her cadaver dog, a Portuguese water dog named Tracer, search Tuesday for additional grave sites at the former Dozier School for Boys. Researchers from the University of South Florida enlisted teams of cadaver dogs to help in their search.
  8. USF researchers unearthed 55 bodies from Dozier, more than state claimed

    State Roundup

    TAMPA — The men who ran the Florida School for Boys buried George Owen Smith quickly, without the dignity of a permanent headstone, before his family could drive up from Auburndale. Their official story was that the spry 14-year-old had crawled under a house nearby and died. His sister Ovell, 12 at the time, never believed it.

    "None of that rang true," said Ovell Krell.

    Seventy-three years later, she still wants to know what happened, and where he's buried....

    Military webbed belt buckle shown next to a reference photo of a similar brass buckle and a photo from the Florida State Archives (Florida Memory Project DSB0219) showing a boy from the Florida School for Boys wearing a similar styled belt (ca. 1950s).
  9. North Florida arrowhead sting: What's the point?

    Human Interest

    Jacky Fuller was sound asleep beside his wife of 33 years when pounding at the door jolted him awake. The 54-year-old father of two and faithful Jehovah's Witness stumbled out of bed in his underwear. It was not yet dawn, but the doorbell was ringing, and the pounding sounded like someone about to knock the door off the hinges. Heart hammering, he pulled open the door and stared into gun barrels....

    NATE CURTIS, 25, of Havana says agents detained his wife and seized his computers and cellphone. Curtis was charged with seven felony counts of violation of historic resources and seven felony counts of dealing in stolen property, plus two misdemeanor charges.
  10. Polly Parker's escape gave life to Florida's Seminole Tribe

    Human Interest

    MADEIRA BEACH — The medicine man planted his sneakers on the deck of the fishing boat, bowed his head and asked God in an ancient tongue to lead the way, to help them find some remnants of the woman who saved the Seminoles, if only her spirit. Tourists lined the boardwalk and watched him pray, cameras clicking.

    "We will bring her back in memory," he said.

    With that, the Florida Fisherman II shuddered and spit and started plugging out of John's Pass, then south, toward Egmont Key, which soon came into view through thick fog....

    As the Florida Fisherman II approaches St. Marks, tribal historian Willie Johns steps out onto the bow of the boat to take in the view that Polly Parker may have seen 150 years earlier.
  11. Mocking musical can't deter young Mormon missionaries

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — The show was about to start, but the fresh-faced missionaries were just getting warmed up.

    "Good evening folks," Elder T.J. Peters said to a middle-aged man and his wife hustling toward the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts to catch Friday's staging of The Book of Mormon, the hit musical that pokes all sorts of fun at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints....

    Mormon missionaries pass out cards Friday night outside the Straz Center where The Book of Mormon has been playing.
  12. Frank Hallam Day's images of glowing RVs are at turns charming, creepy

    Human Interest

    Frank Hallam Day has toured the world to photograph ship hulls and shipwrecks, mannequins and cherry trees, American waterways and the after-dark time of those giant balloons you see floating over New York City parades. It's good stuff. But his recent work that's getting a ton of attention — including the Oskar Barnack Award from Leica — is a series called "RV Night," and it takes a turn that's haunting and creepy, and at times funny and pathetic. The series evokes a theme of Man versus Nature with an almost post-apocalyptic tilt....

    An Airstream in the Florida woods — part of the “RV Night” collection — has that certain glow, thanks to Frank Hallam Day’s sharp eye (and expert lighting).
  13. Hefty federal grant will help unearth graves at old Dozier School for Boys

    State Roundup

    For decades, the little graveyard on the campus of the old Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna was all but forgotten. Once in a while, inmates from the nearby county jail would cut the grass at Boot Hill while the Panhandle sun baked the crooked rows of 31 pipe crosses that didn't even mark actual graves. But visitors to the clearing in the pines were few and far between.

    On Saturday, as forensic anthropologists and archaeologists from the University of South Florida will begin unearthing remains of the boys buried here, many will turn their attention to the cemetery on the edge of town, about an hour's drive west of Tallahassee. ...

    In the woods not far from the current Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Mariana is a small cemetery with 31 unmarked graves. Some of the White House Boys think the bodies of children murdered by guards at the Florida School for Boys are buried in the cemetery. Some can be attributed to students killed in a 1914 fire and a flu epidemic that swept the campus. But not all are accounted for.
  14. How an eye in the sky can help what happens on the ground

    Human Interest

    By BEN MONTGOMERY

    Times Staff Writer

    When a tornado dropped out of the sky over Moore, Okla., in May, the scene on the ground was chaotic. Emergency medics sped toward the jagged trail of destruction left by the EF5 tornado to provide aid. First responders advanced toward the storm's path. Parents rushed to find their children.

    High in the sky above, a company called DigitalGlobe positioned a satellite over the scarred swath and captured a high-resolution image of Moore. It then plugged the image into a crowdsourcing application and sent out a call for help via email and social media, asking people across the country to decipher what they saw in the image. Hundreds joined in, scanning the satellite photo for three pieces of information: destroyed buildings, blue-tarped roofs and downed trees. When something fit the bill, they marked it on the communal map....

  15. Cabinet agrees to let USF researchers exhume bodies at Dozier

    Education

    TALLAHASSEE — They call themselves the White House Boys, but they're old men now. Gray hair falls from their ball caps. They have bad backs and failing hearts and pictures of grandchildren in their wallets.

    Tuesday morning, they slid into chairs before the Florida Cabinet. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Florida carried them away from their families and deposited them at one of the country's largest reform schools, in the Panhandle town of Marianna, a place where, some of them say, they were beaten so badly they can still feel it....