TAMPA — The effort to find out what happened at a notorious Panhandle reform school got a boost Wednesday with a $423,000 federal grant to the University of South Florida team that will start exhuming bodies there this weekend.
USF researchers head back to the now-shuttered Dozier School for Boys in Marianna to identify children who were buried haphazardly in a cemetery or cemeteries on school grounds and possibly return remains to loved ones. The researchers also will attempt to determine causes of death at a site where former wards have told horrifying stories of abuse.
Even without the grant from the National Institute of Justice, the work at Dozier was scheduled to resume, said USF spokeswoman Lara Wade. The additional money will allow the team to pursue a “full workup” on remains with more extensive DNA analysis, she said.
The work is slated to begin Saturday and last until Monday. More trips to Marianna will follow, and the full exhumation and DNA examination should take a year, Wade said.
USF anthropology professors Erin Kimmerle and Christian Wells are en route to Marianna with an entourage of forensic anthropology and archeology grad students, members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and an emergency mortuary service.
Kimmerle has supervised forensic operations for the United Nations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovena, and has also worked forensic cases in Kosovo, Bermuda and the United States.
“The NIJ offers an incredible program for cold cases and identification of missing persons,” Kimmerle said in a statement. “This funding is critical for completing the next steps in our research at the Dozier School for Boys, including excavating human remains and performing a full anthropological analysis on them.”
The Dozier mission had been supported by a $190,000 allocation from the Florida Legislature in the spring.