27 more graves found at infamous Florida school for boys

Sarah Nelson, The Gainesville Sun, Fla.

A ground pollution cleanup may have uncovered more unmarked graves near a former Florida reform school whose history is rife with abuse.

While cleaning up a polluted area near the now-closed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a company hired to inspect the ground found 27 “anomalies” that could be graves in Marianna.

Gov. Ron DeSantis sent a letter to Jackson County officials requesting the commission to work with a number of state departments to address the findings.

“I look forward to working together and offer my full support and partnership to ensure this issue is handled with the utmost sensitivity and care,” DeSantis wrote in a letter Wednesday.

The school, more than 60 miles west of Tallahassee, was once the largest reform institution for children, open for more than a century. And through 1959-61, Gainesville’s Bryant Middleton was one of the hundreds of men abused at the state-run school.

Middleton is part of a group of former students who call themselves the White House Boys, after a campus building where beatings typically occurred. The men came forward with tales of grisly abuse within Dozier’s walls that included paddling, torture, rape and death.

Researchers from the University of South Florida scoured the school’s property in 2012, including the nearby cemetery that is marked with small, white metal crosses. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement originally said there were 31 bodies in the plots. The USF anthropologists found another 24, mostly the bodies of boys.

News of possible graves is anything but surprising to Middleton.

“We’re not shocked by anything that comes out,” said Middleton, now 74.

Middleton was sent to the school, then known as the Florida School for Boys, in 1959. He said he was paddled six times to the point his backside was “purple, yellow and bleeding,” One session included 56 blows.

He said the boys were never allowed to go near the campus cemetery, named Boot Hill, but he believes there are more unmarked graves around the 1,400-acre property.

“We know there’s more bodies to be found,” he said. “When is this going to stop? I don’t have an answer.”

In a prepared statement, Jackson County officials said the board has received the report and are studying its findings.

“We will be working with our state agency partners to determine the next steps,” according to Jackson County Administrator Wilanne Daniels.

The county is looking into potential uses for the school, which closed in 2011 after a Department of Justice investigation. Possibilities include a manufacturing plant, county office space and a facility for those with autism.


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