U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday that he's pursuing funding from a $3 million federal grant program to help identify buried remains at a defunct boys' reform school in the Florida Panhandle.
The grant money is meant for exhuming bodies and identifying them through DNA, the Democratic senator told reporters.
Wednesday, Nelson got a tour of the grounds. It was the first time the inside of the "White House" has been opened to the media, and possibly the last for a long time.
Once the bodies are exhumed, the area would become a crime scene, and no one would be allowed on it.
Former students have alleged that physical and sexual abuse -- and even wrongful deaths -- occurred at the school. It opened in 1900 and closed in 2011. A building known as the "White House" was notorious for beatings.
Nelson said he was contacted by a brother of a boy who died at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. The senator said he knew the school well as a boy because his family would pass it as they drove to see relatives in the Panhandle.
"It was kind of known, `You don't want to be sent to the boys' reform school,"' he said.
University of South Florida anthropologists have previously said they found at least 50 gravesites on the grounds and suspect there may be as many as 100. They say additional research likely will turn up more gravesites.
The Department of Justice refers to the grant as "Using DNA Technology to Identify the Missing." The deadline for applications is May 6, according to the department's website. Two to four awards are expected to be given.
USF is still waiting for a judge to sign a court order allowing the exhumation. If and when he does, the work can start within two weeks.
The Jackson County Floridan newspaper reported that the county wants to be represented as the judge makes his decision. The county may want to intervene, and stop the digging.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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