By Dave Heller
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says it's finally time to get to the truth about the mysterious deaths that happened at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
Nelson is trying to secure grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice to help University of South Florida scientists in their effort to exhume bodies from the old reform school, which shut down in 2011.
The USF researchers discovered nearly 50 unmarked graves on the school's property using ground-penetrating radar and analyzing soil samples. It's believed the property contains the bodies of boys who died there in the 1900's but were never accounted for.
Nelson says he got involved in the case after being contacted by families who lost relatives at the school, including a woman from Lakeland who says her brother died under suspicious circumstances at the school.
Another man, Glen Varnadoe, said his brother died at the school and wants to know the circumstances.
Nelson says he wants the truth to come out so families can finally get closure.
"This just all the more has added fuel to the fire and what I said then was, where there's smoke, there's fire and we need to get to the bottom of it. First of all, you get to the truth. The second thing is you bring a lot of closure for families like Dr. Varnadoe that contacted us in the first place. And thirdly, if crimes were committed we now have the technical and medical capability of determining if crimes were committed so that we could know what happened in a sordid past and make sure it never happens again."
Nelson says the Justice Department operates a grant program for investigations that use DNA to determine if crimes have been committed. He hopes to get some funding to assist USF researchers with their effort to exhume bodies.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is seeking a court order for those exhumations. She says the work could begin as soon as an order is issued.