After urging by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and others, Florida's attorney general today sought a court order appointing a medical examiner to exhume the bodies of young boys buried on the site of the now-shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
"This is a critical step forward to bring closure to the families," said Nelson (D-FL). "I commend Attorney General Pam Bondi."
Said Bondi, "The deaths that occurred at Dozier School for Boys in Marianna are cloaked in mystery, and the surviving family members deserve a thorough examination of the site."
Nelson has publicly pursued such an examination into allegations of abuse at the reform school since receiving a letter in October 2012 from a Lakeland, Florida man, who said his uncle died at the school years ago under mysterious circumstances. The man, Glen R. Varnadoe, wants to now find and exhume his uncle's body.
Nelson also has lent his support to University of South Florida scientists' efforts to uncover what happened to numerous young boys who died while in state custody at the reform school years ago. Those anthropologists, whom Nelson met with in Tampa last month, also have been seeking to finally return some of the bodies to relatives.
Led by USF's Dr. Erin Kimmerle, the scientists began an investigation last year into gravesites at the now defunct school. In December 2012, the researchers announced they had found evidence of almost 100 deaths and 50 gravesites at the school -- way more than previously found by law enforcement.
To date, scientists have examined historical documents, used ground-penetrating radar, analyzed soil samples and performed excavations at the site to uncover the 50 unmarked gravesites -- or, 19 more than identified in a previous investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The researchers also found that more deaths occurred at the school than previously known. They uncovered 98 deaths of boys between ages 6-18 in the years from 1914 through 1973.
Bondi's petition seeks a court order to exhume bodies from "Boot Hill Cemetery" and surrounding areas, where it is believed there may be unmarked graves and unaccounted for bodies of boys who died at the school between 1900 and 1952.
Meantime, Nelson has also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to at least help the USF scientists with funding, if it is not possible to open a federal criminal investigation.