Now that the work is complete on the now-closed Dozier School for boys, alleged abuse survivors and elected officials are now looking into ways of how to move forward together. A final report on the work done to reunite the remains of loved ones buried on the property with their families is still leaving all parties involved with some unanswered questions.
Between horror stories of rape and floggings, the Dozier School for Boys’ 100-years in existence has been associated with a history of alleged abuse, says John Gaddy, who remembers when he was a former juvenile at the school decades ago.
“The spanking was the discipline,” said Gaddy. “We couldn’t call it a whopping because when they was writing my Mama, they told on the letter that I had a spanking, but she didn’t know that half of my body was being cut in half.”
Gaddy came to Tallahassee in support of several alleged abuse survivors calling themselves the White House boys, who trekked there to speak before the Florida Cabinet. A white building called the White House located on the Marianna campus is where a lot of the alleged abuse took place.
University of South Florida researchers led by Erin Kimmerle came to Tallahassee to deliver a final report to Governor Rick Scott and the Florida cabinet about their findings on the Dozier property.
Their goal is to reunite the remains of boys believed to be buried on the property with their families, who have been awaiting answers about their whereabouts for years.
“We have seven positive identifications—that’s through DNA testing,” said Kimmerle. “We have 14 additional identifications that are the presumptive IDs that I mentioned…and this is something that is ongoing. We have some more pending. We’re hopeful that we will get several more positive matches.”
But, researchers didn’t just find and ID remains, Dr. Christian Wells says they also found that some of the area may be toxic and urged state officials to be careful moving forward.
“In the course of soil testing for prospection of human burials, we discovered significant and compelling evidence that portions of the Dozier campus are contaminated with solvents, pesticides, and heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, and mercury among other pollutants, such as asbestos,” he said.
And, that could be problematic as the state and other stakeholders involved decide what should happen with the site and where the remains that have not been identified should be buried.
Peggy Marx-Griffin, the widow of former White House Boy Frank Marx, says originally, she’d wanted to make it into a place for wounded veterans, until she heard the site could be toxic.
Still, she says no matter what, they shouldn’t do anything with the land until all the remains are found.
“More important than anything is please don’t leave those children there,” she said. “Let’s find the rest of them, as many as we can. There are so many men that remember. We have men digging these graves, we have men seeing children drug out of cars. So, please, do whatever you do with Dozier property, but don’t do it, until all these children are found.”
Most of the comments of the White House boys also centered around what could be done about the remains of boys believed to be buried on the property.
But, only one drew applause: Robert Straley, one of the organization’s founding members.
He spoke of the importance of second chances for the state and Marianna residents, who have endured “endless blame” for what their elders did long ago. And, he hopes the state will help with reburying the boys as well as put up a monument.
“These boys lives were not lost in vain, for their stories changed the laws of Juvenile Justice in Florida, and their monument should be shining reminder that decades of darkness cannot hide all things. May their many candles burn brightly, and may their candles be lit for the boys that may never be found. It is better to extend a hand, than raise a fist. Forgiveness is only for the strong. Thank you,” he said, to applause.
And, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam—who was instrumental in bringing this issue forward at a Cabinet meeting years ago—apologized.
“I’m very sorry for what these men and these generation of men endured while wards of the state,” he stated. “It was unconscionable, and the lessons we should take from this because of your courage in bringing it forward and not letting it be surplussed away and forgotten about is going to serve future generations of boys and girls.”
Those sentiments were also echoed by Governor Rick Scott. He not only thanked the researchers for their work, but the White House boys as well.
“For everybody that spoke today, all the individuals that had been in Dozier, thanks for how you handled yourself, wish it never happened,” he said. “I can’t imagine it. None of us can, and we hope it never happens again to anybody in our society. You can see the people in this room want to do the right things. So, it’s a very good day for our state, because you can see that we’re heading in the right direction. But, we still have more work to do.”
And, Attorney General Pam Bondi says the reburial aspect is something the state really has to look into.
“It’s $7,000 to bury each of these children, and yes, I think they deserve a proper burial, but I think we guess have to decide ultimately where the burial should be,” she said. “I’ve heard some people say they want them buried back at Dozier. I’ve heard some say they wouldn’t want their families back there for anything in the world. So, these are just outstanding questions that we’re going to have to need to address.”
Even with the researchers’ final report on Dozier, a two-hour TV documentary based on their research by Kimmerle and her team is set to air in the Fall.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.