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Scott, Cabinet Start Talks on Dozier Site Future

In a photo from August 2013, USF forensic anthropologist Erin KImmerle leads students in exhuming a grave at the Dozier School for Boys
Edmund D. Fountain
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet began discussions Tuesday on the future of the shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a former state-run reform school where children are alleged to have been abused and died.

However, no decisions were made as the state officials agreed to await a final report expected in January from University of South Florida researchers, who excavated the 1,400-acre site about 70 miles west of Tallahassee and continue to try identify remains.

State Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who requested the Cabinet discussion, said after the meeting that he doesn't know what the future holds for the property, which Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam called the "gateway to Marianna."

"I don't know any one of us can answer that question by ourselves," Atwater said. "I think it's clear … the reality of economics, you also heard the importance of the spiritual, there are people's whose lives were lost there. How can it be a site for good in the future? What should be seen and known there? I don't know."

Atwater added that a funding request may be made to the state Legislature to help cover internment costs when remains are matched through DNA testing with surviving family members.

Putnam, while noting some of the buildings have issues that range from asbestos to simple years of neglect, suggested the state consider recreational or educational uses for the land north of Interstate 10.

"We all are painfully aware of the dark chapter that Dozier represents in our state's history," Putnam said. "This is our opportunity to bring that to a close and start a new chapter, a brighter chapter for the resources on that parcel, for the community of Marianna."

But Charles Fudge, a former resident of Dozier School for Boys, worried that the history of Dozier may be lost if the site is overly redeveloped.

“Until they find the remaining bodies, they should never let any kind of buildings be put on that property," Fudge said. "Those boys … you know when we were sent there, we didn't expect to be beaten, and we certainly didn't expect to die.”

Dale Landry, president of the NAACP's Tallahassee branch, said Florida needs to pay costs, even if it's capped at $5,000 per family, to help pay for transportation and services when remains are turned over to relatives after DNA matches.

"Those remains are remains of Florida's children and a few men," Landry said. "We did not handle this ceremoniously from the beginning. We need to ceremoniously handle this from now on."

Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at USF, said researchers have completed their field work but left the post-excavation status of Dozier to state officials.

Researchers found the remains of 51 people at the site, of whom six have been identified.

"Of the six identifications we've had, four were to direct siblings. So, even though they are quite elderly now, it's brothers and sisters," Kimmerle said. "I know they are extremely grateful to all of you (Scott and the Cabinet), as we are for the opportunity to take on this project and bring this history forward."

The state originally had hoped to sell the Dozier site, a move that was put on hold by the investigation.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner said after the meeting that his agency, which includes the Division of Historical Resources, would be able to handle any historical artifacts and records, but so far hasn't been given any such directions.

"I don't have any plan," Detzner said. "If they ask us to be a part of the process, the governor directs me to do that, we will."


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Jim Turner & Tom Urban - News Service of Florida