TAMPA, Florida -- University of South Florida forensic experts announced Thursday that for the first time they have identified the remains of a boy buried at a now-closed Florida reform school where some guards were accused of brutality.
The researchers said they used DNA and other tests to identify the remains of George Owen Smith, who was 14 when he disappeared from the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in 1940. They couldn't say how Smith died. Official records indicated 31 burials at the school, but researchers found the remains of 55 people during a four-month excavation last year.
Sister's DNA match
Researchers said Smith's body was found in a hastily-buried grave wrapped only in a burial shroud. His DNA matched a sample taken from his sister.
"We may never know the full circumstances of what happened to Owen or why his case was handled the way it was," Erin Kimmerle, the lead researcher and an associate anthropology professor, said in a news release. "But we do know that he now will be buried under his own name and beside family members who longed for answers."
University officials in a press release said his mother wrote the school's superintendent, Millard Davidson, in December 1940 asking about her son. She got a letter back saying no one knew where he was.
In January 1941, his family was told he was found dead after escaping from the school, the university said. The family traveled to Marianna to claim Owen's body, but they were led to an unmarked grave.
Owen's sister Ovell Krell said her mother never accepted that her son was dead and spent the last decades of her life waiting for him to return home.
A press conference was held Thursday to give further details.