Forensic researchers said on Tuesday that they have exhumed 55 bodies buried at the former Dozier School for Boys. It's a finding that has implications across Florida.
The now-closed reform school in Marianna has been hit with allegations of physical and sexual abuse and murder.
Researchers said the three-month dig turned up five more bodies than expected and 24 more than documented in state records.
The announcement came out of the University of South Florida.
Slideshow: Excavations at the Dozier School for Boys
Head researcher Dr. Erin Kimmerle said her group is continuing the painstaking work of identifying the remains.
"Our mission went exceptionally well," said Kimmerle.
Many of the remains unearthed from September through December, were those of juveniles.
"Locating 55 burials is a significant finding, which opens up a whole new set of questions for our team,” Kimmerle said. "At this time, we know very little about the burials and the children in terms of who specifically was buried there, their ages or ancestry, as well as the timing and circumstances of their deaths."
This massive effort to find answers began in early 2012 when excavation was given the OK and funded by the state legislature.
The state closed the Dozier School in 2011 after a century-long scandal.
Hundreds of surviving students have expressed allegations of brutal abuse both physical and sexual.
"This is why excavation is necessary. The only way to find the facts is to follow a scientific process," said Kimmerle.
Now 65 years old, former student James Denyke, of Oviedo, is on a quest to expose the truth about what he said was decades of brutality at the now-closed state-run school.
"It's part of life. It's everyday life. I've lived it since 1965," said Denyke. "Physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse."
Denyke was sent to the school when he was 15, and he said the memories refuse to escape him.
"We feel like we know the answer why, we just hope we get closure," said Ovell Krell, a family member of another of the alleged victims.
There are dozens of unidentified remains and investigators are asking potential family members to come forward and submit DNA samples in an effort to make a positive match.
"The team recovered bones, teeth, and numerous artifacts in every one of the 55 burials," said Kimmerle.
The research team plans to resume work on the school property in the next few months, since it's believed there are even more bodies buried there.
No allegations of abuse have ever been proven, but family members hope this changes that.
The school operated for more than 100 years.
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com