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USF searches for unmarked graves at Dozier School for Boys

6:26 PM, May 23, 2012   |    comments
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BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- Roger Kiser, a Brunswick, Ga. resident, describes himself as a survivor of the Dozier School for Boys.

"It has taken me 19 years to get anybody to believe the conditions there," he said.

Kiser was in the reform school in 1959, 1960 and 1961 and described the conditions as horrific.

"We saw many boys brought out of the white house, we know were dead, black and white, hauled out by wheelbarrow," said Kiser, "so we know there is bodies scattered all over the facility."

Kiser wrote the book the 'White House Boys - An American Tragedy' to reveal his experience. 

"If you stepped off the sidewalk, you got beat, if you ate too much you got beat, if you smiled you got beat, if you smiled too much you got beat. It was total terror," he said.

A terror he tried to recreate in a film. 

"People will not believe it when you say this was a concentration camp, they absolutely do not believe you," said Kiser.

Robert Straley, another survivor, said, "We were flogged with leather whips."

The Marianna facility was closed in 2008, but when Kiser and Straley learned that a University of South Florida team is attempting to document the history of the cemetery, they became excited.

So far, the team has discovered what they believe to be 31 unmarked graves in a heavily wooded area.

"It is going to find out these stories are true, there's broken bones, bodies that have been shot," said Kiser.

Kiser said the justice department confirmed abuse at the state-run juvenile facility. He hopes the next step brings justice.

"The next chapter is getting justice for the boys who were killed, justice for the men who survived it because it was horrible," said Kiser, "and an apology from the State of Florida."

USF's Katy Henning said the team will take the data collected by the ground-penetrating radar and scan into a software to identify what is in the unmarked graves; it will not identify who is in the graves.

Hennig says that requires a court order.

The USF team will complete its investigation this summer and issue a report to the Department of Environmental Protection; DEP gave them permission to research the cemetery.

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