More time granted to search for graves at former boys' school - FOX 13 News

More time granted to search for graves at former boys' school

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

For months, USF researchers have been trying to uncover the secrets that lie underneath the ground at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

They only had until February to search the area, which at one point was 1,400 acres.

Last fall, USF announced they found at least 50 possible or probably gravesites, 19 more than the state identified.

USF also believes there are at least 100 deaths that occurred at the school.

They said they needed more time though to do more digging. And then, Senator Bill Nelson got involved.

He contacted Governor Rick Scott's office and asked that he give USF more time.

On Thursday, the Governor gave that permission.

Now USF has until July 9th.

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For years, there have been allegations of abuse at the hands of guards there. A group of men, known as the White House Boys, say they were beaten with a leather strap, left with marks on their bodies and on their minds.

Those men survived the school.

But we've been hearing from families who's loved ones did not survive.

Ovell Krell says her 12-year-old brother went to Dozier in 1941. Her mother was told her brother George ran away from the school twice.

The second time, he never came back.

"They told my mother he was found dead under a house. That it was cold and he went under the house to get warm, but died from pneumonia," Krell said.

The family told the school they would be up the next day to collect his body, but when the family arrived, he had already been buried.

"They took my brother's body and they brought him back to the school and buried him on the campus, the same day they found him," Krell said.

Ovell remembers being brought to a patch of dirt that had just been moved.

She says it was a short walk from the administration building.

USF will rely on Ovell's account and others who said they saw the cemetery or heard about it.

Robert Straley was at Dozier in 1963. He says on his first night, he was hanging around some boys who talked about running away.

Straley says all the boys were brought down to a building he'd later learn was called the White House. He says boys were beaten there.

"They took me in there. Told me to grasp the handrail, bite the pillow, look at the wall, don't scream, don't get up or you'll get more," Straley said.

He got eight lashes from a whip that night and says he was taken to the White House on two other occasions.

He says the guards used a leather strap with a wooden handle

Ovell Krell doesn't believe the story her mother was told about her brother's death. At 83 years old now, Krell wants to know the truth.

She says a boy who says he was with her brother when he ran away, saw men running after him.

"The last he seen of him, there were three men from the school shooting at him with rifles," Krell said.

She believes, in her heart, that he was killed.

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Senator Bill Nelson says it's time to find the truth.

"We owe it to the families of these boys. We owe it to the men who did make it out of that school," Nelson said.

Nelson added he was frustrated when FDLE refused to reopen this investigation.

"Where's there's smoke, there's fire. I want to find out where the fire is. I want to find out where the graves are, I want them exhumed. I want them examined and I want to see if potential crimes have been committed," he said.

Dr. Kimmerlee is heading the team of researchers with USF. They still need an exhumation order to dig any deeper, and they need state funding.

They estimate it will cost about $160,000 and take six weeks of field work.

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