Advertisement
  1. News

Dozier investigation finds possible buckshot in boy's remains

The cemetery at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys is seen at the end of exhumation work on Dec. 20, 2013 in Marianna. Researchers from the University of South Florida removed 55 sets of remains from the cemetery. [USF photo]
Published Feb. 6, 2015

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.

Hillsborough County sheriff's Detective Greg Thomas sent the small metal object to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for analysis. FDLE ballistics experts found that the "lead ball cannot be definitively determined to be an ammunition component due to damage and corrosion; however, it is consistent with 000 Buck size shot pellets for various muzzle loading balls based on weight, size, and physical appearance."

Stories have swirled for decades about foul play at the brutal school, open from 1900 to 2011. In 2012, USF anthropologists began investigating a small burial ground surrounded by pine trees on a forgotten corner of campus, where pipe crosses marked what was said to be the final resting place for 31 boys who died at the school. Using ground penetrating radar and excavation techniques, they found 55 graves, many in the woods outside the marked cemetery. Remains were found buried under trees and brush and under an old road.

USF's new 15-page report, an update for the Florida Cabinet, says researchers also found buried among the remains a cache of syringes and drug bottles dated 1985, a modern water cooler containing the remains of a dog and "various kinds of garbage."

The possible projectile was found among the remains of a 14- to 17-year-old boy, most likely of African-American ancestry. They know he was buried clothed and in a casket, but can't determine when he was put into the ground. The burial location suggests he died during the later part of the period that the Boot Hill cemetery was in use. The last recorded burial at the school was 1952.

At a news conference Thursday, forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, who is leading the research, said the remains were so deteriorated that she couldn't tell what killed the boy. But Thomas said it was possible a projectile the size of the lead ball they found could cause a fatal injury.

USF has also identified two more sets of remains: Sam Morgan, using DNA, and Bennett Evans, presumptively identified based on age, burial location and context. That brings the number of individuals identified to five. Evans was an employee of the school while the others were inmates.

Although researchers found 55 graves, they believe they've unearthed the remains of 51 individuals. That's because three sets of charred remains were found mixed up in seven different graves. They believe these remains belonged to victims of a 1914 dormitory fire that killed seven to 10 people, most of them boys who had been locked in "dark cells" on the third floor and were unable to escape when the building ignited.

They don't know where the other fire victims were buried, but think their remains could be with the debris of the burned dormitory, which was dozed under.

Excluding the fire victims, USF has found the remains of 48 children. But they have the names of only 43 boys from school records. Among those 43, nine were white and 34 — nearly 80 percent — were documented as "colored." The youngest burial was 6-year-old George Grissam who had been paroled for labor and was brought back to the school in 1918, unconscious.

The report also says researchers talked to former wards from the early 1960s who claim to have been sexually abused by guards and can name their perpetrators, who may still be alive. If the victims were younger than 12, there's no statute of limitations on rape. Researchers encouraged police to get involved and said they "found the testimonies used in our research to be honest and credible."

"We hope that it's not just glossed over or pushed aside," Kimmerle said.

The research team will continue field work at the shuttered school until August. They plan to excavate the burned dormitory structure to try to locate the missing remains. They also intend to open a discussion about what to do with the remains they've found and how to properly rebury and memorialize them.

Contact Ben Montgomery at bmontgomery@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8650.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and developments.
    The shooting happened on the 5100 block of Matanzas Avenue, police said.
  2. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates.
    Charges in the incident are pending, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
  3. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talks to reporters in Tampa on Aug. 21. Delays in his filling vacancies on the state's five water management district boards have twice led to those agencies canceling meetings to levy taxes and set budgets, which one expert said was unprecedented. OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES  |  Times
    Vacancies lead to canceling two agencies’ budget meetings.
  4. Jessica Stoneking, Seven Springs Elementary School art teacher, and a group of kindergarten children enjoy a colorful floor rug during instruction time.  The rug is one of the many flexible seating options art students have in Stoneking's class. Gail Diederich
  5. President Donald Trump listens to music by military musicians during a State Dinner in the Rose Garden at the White House, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) AP
    Allies of Joe Biden, the early front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary, seized on the developments to portray him as the candidate Trump least wants to face next fall.
  6. Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil says religious leaders must be empathetic to the needs of families members of those who die by suicide. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Attitudes have evolved with understanding about mental illness
  7. Rabbi Reb Tuviah (Paul Schreiber) is rarely seen without his guitar. He will sing at the upcoming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at Temple Beth David in Spring Hill. Paul Schreiber
  8. Joshua Michael Nichols, 21, was arrested by Pasco County Sheriff's deputies on Saturday in connection to the early morning shooting death of an unidentified man during an argument outside a Spring Hill home. [Pasco County Sheriff's Office] ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    One person is in custody. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
  9. Yesterday• Pasco
    Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, received his third “Paul Harris Award.” the highest recognition from the Rotary Club, on Aug. 15. The pin was presented to Dr. Musunuru, a nationally-recognized cardiologist, by Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins in recognition of his humanitarian and philanthropic services to the people of Pasco County and the State of Florida for nearly 40 years. Pictured: Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, (left) and Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins. Jemith Rosa/Hudson Rotary Club
    News and notes about your neighbors
  10. A Lancaster County Sheriff's deputy walks around the Old Skool Sports Bar and Grill, the scene of a shooting early in the morning, north of Lancaster, S.C. on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  Lancaster County Sherriff's Office said in a statement that the agency was investigating a fatal shooting that also injured several people.  (Jessica Holdman/The Post And Courier via AP) JESSICA HOLDMAN  |  AP
    Two adult males were shot and killed.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement