Tallahassee, Florida - Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed a petition seeking a court order to exhume bodies at the controversial Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, which closed in 2011.
Bondi says atrocities were committed at the reform school in the 1900's and it's believed the property contains the bodies of boys who died there but were never accounted for.
Bondi's petition asks the court to permit Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Hunter to exhume the bodies and perform autopsies to determine the cause of death of the boys. Former inmates at Dozier School said the guards administered severe beatings and sexually abused boys.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the property several years ago and reported 31 graves were dug there during the first half of the 20th Century. FDLE did not open any graves and concluded there was not enough evidence to support or refute allegations of abuse at the school.
Last year, University of South Florida anthropologist Erin Kimmerle led a team that discovered more graves on the school property.
Bondi says Kimmerle's work, and a family's request, prompted her to pursue a court order to exhume the bodies.
"It's so important to these families. We know that atrocities occurred at the Dozier School for Boys back in the early 1900's and many of these families need closure and it's only fair to them that they are able to hopefully identify their loved ones and get their remains."
Bondi says since so many years have passed since the allegations of abuse, it would be virtually impossible to pursue criminal charges because of the statute of limitations.
"The families realize that at this time, because most of the workers there have passed away since then, as well as the severe decomposition of the bodies. We don't even believe the bodies were properly embalmed so it's going to be very, very difficult. That is not the intent, that is not the purpose. The purpose is there is a cloud of mystery surrounding what happened at that school and these families need closure and they deserve this."
Bondi says it's unclear how many young men were buried there.
"They were buried in shallow unmarked graves and so this is horrible and it's important for these families to find out if their loved ones are there."
Bondi says the work to begin exhuming bodies could begin soon if a court order is issued.
She's also working with the Department of Environmental Protection to prevent the land from being sold in the next five months so the work can proceed.