The Miami Herald reports that workers who were preparing for a massive cleanup of a fuel storage site near one of the nation’s most notorious reform schools have discovered something far worse than ground pollution: evidence of 27 possible graves. A company hired to evaluate underground storage tanks adjacent to the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna performed a series of ground-penetrating radar tests on a parcel a little less than 500 feet from what is called the Boot Hill Cemetery at Dozier, an infamous youth prison linked to more than a century of chilling abuse. Dozier was established in 1897 as a progressive alternative school. Later, visitors encountered children chained in irons.
In 2008, a group of mostly 60- and 70-year-old men formed the White House Boys, named after a cinder-block building on campus called the White House. That’s where officers took them, they said, to be beaten, sometimes scores of times, with a leather strap inlaid with metal. The boys would be forced to lay prone on a filthy cot in a cell that became speckled with blood and slivers of human flesh. Some of the men also said they had been taken to a “rape room” where officers sexually assaulted them.The youth camp was shuttered in 2011, around the time the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division reported “systemic, egregious and dangerous practices exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls.”
Fifty-five sets of remains already were found buried in what is commonly called Boot Hill Cemetery, which held 31 white PVC pipe crosses in neat rows that bore no relation to the bodies interred below. Some of the boys perished during a fire in 1914. They had been confined in “dark cells” in the basement of a dormitory when a fire erupted.
The precise number of youths who died that night is unknown, though a research team from the University of South Florida believes 10 boys were killed in the blaze. Seven of the fire victims were buried together in five graves.Robert Straley, who began to understand what had been done to him after suffering a breakdown in the aisles of a Super Kmart, was one of the founders of the White House group. He died last July of pancreatic cancer at age 71.
“You can never go back to Marianna as a man in your mind,” Straley told the Miami Herald in an interview the year before he died. “You can only go back as the helpless child you were. You may think you are talking in a man’s voice. But you are really talking in a little boy’s voice.”
University of South Florida researchers who have studied the campus extensively believe there may have been 100 or more deaths at Dozier since its opening in 1900.
Ref. MSN/News, miamiherald.com
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