State of Florida Denies Permits to Excavate Bodies at Dozier

By: Rachel Yonkunas Email
By: Rachel Yonkunas Email

It seemed months of research went to waste for University of South Florida anthropologists. In June, Florida's state archeologist denied requests to dig up graves at the Dozier School for boys in Marianna, Florida. He said USF’s research was incomplete. Now, the state is saying it does not have the authority to excavate human remains—even though the property is state-owned.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has been an advocate for USF’s research team. He called the state's restriction irresponsible.

"Saying that the department of state does not have jurisdiction, that's just an excuse to side-step and not take accountability,” he explained.

Former students at the reform school claimed the Dozier staff tortured and murdered some students—burying their remains in unmarked graves on school grounds. USF’s team is trying to account for and identify 22 people they believe are buried in those graves. Senator Nelson said it appeared the state is dragging its feet to cover up the truth.

“Since there have been so many stories that have swirled for decades, the question is, were there crimes that were committed? And exhuming the graves would reveal the answer to those secrets,” said Nelson.

Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner denied the accusations. He said their permits are restricted to digging up historical objects—not human remains.

Senator Nelson urged Florida Governor Rick Scott to step in. If the state sells the land to a private company, researchers will not be able to dig deeper and determine to whom these graves belong. He believes excavating those graves is the only way families will see closure.


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