University of South Florida researchers on Tuesday announced the findings of the initial four-month phase of excavation work at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
Dr. Erin Kimmerle said that during the dig, researchers expected to find as many as 50 gravesites in the Boot Hill Cemetery area of the school. Researchers ended up finding 55 graves, which is 24 more than had been documented on that site.
Many boys who were sent to the school have said that they expected researchers to find mass gravesites, with multiple bodies just buried in the same hole, with no markings around it.
"They were all single, individual graves with some type of burial container, like a casket or coffin," Kimmerle said. "Some were handmade at the school and some appear to be manufactured. I think the one as an example at the at-risk place was a manufactured coffin that would have been purchased."
Ovell Krell, who is hoping her brother's body is one of the ones identified, is thankful for all of the hard work researchers have put into this project.
"They have worked long and hard to find out the answer to all of this," she said. "And if we know the answer, find out why. Hopefully we are one of the lucky ones that gets some closure."
Investigators with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said that the most recent documented death at the reform school was in 1952.
Some former inmates at the school said they aren't surprised that more graves than had been documented were found. They said that when researchers go back to continue digging in a couple months, they could possibly find thousands more graves.
"There's more, and no telling how many, said Tommy Moore, who was sent to the school twice in the 1950s.
In August before the digging began, Moore said that the beatings and killings were still going on in the '50s, even though school records said they ended decades earlier.
In addition to bones and teeth researchers found in every burial, they also found belt buckles, zippers, coffin hardware, and a child's marble. Some of the burials were under trees, a roadway and other brush in the Boot Hill area on what used to be the side of campus for black inmates. Moore is convinced the same would be found on the other side.
"If you get into the white side, you will find the same thing," he said. "They were buried where you wouldn't think you could find them. You had about eight or nine supervisors that would beat you to death. And you'd go down there and take 35-40 licks with a barber strap. There's not too many people who can survive that."
The skeletal remains found so far will be sent to the forensics lab at the University of North Texas for analysis and possible matching with family members who have submitted DNA samples already. They have also released a list of 42 more known deaths and are hoping that people recognize the names of family members and submit a DNA sample to possibly match some remains. Click here to view that list.