As workers tore trees down and prepared to clean up pollution a fuel storage site in Florida, they made a grisly discovery in what may be human graves, located on the very spot one where an infamous reform school for boys once sat.
Miami Herald reports that the workers, who were making plans to evaluate underground tanks close to the former Dozier School for Boys, made the discovery of 27 possible graves while performing ground-penetrating radar tests in the area. According to a report written by the workers, “anomalies consistent with possible graves” were found.
“Unmarked graves, by conscious design, are made to be hiding places,” children’s advocate, Jack Levine, told the outlet. “What stays hidden almost forgives the crime.”
If the unmarked graves turn out to contain human remains, the confirmed death toll at the reform school will increase to 82, although experts and former students think there are many more hidden graves.
“This randomness might be expected in a clandestine or informal cemetery, where graves were excavated haphazardly and left unmarked,” the workers’ report read, according to Tampa Bay Times.
The finding comes after after forensic anthropologists discovered numerous burials on the school property years ago, burials that the state was previously not aware of.
In 2009, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement indicated that 31 people were buried in one of the school’s cemeteries. Then, University of South Florida forensic anthropologists then found another 24 graves.
After determining the burial sites contained the remains of 55 people, officials announced most of the deceased were young boys who died while in state custody. The boys’ remains have since been shipped to their families, while others were sent to an assigned cemetery in Tallahassee.
Abuse and Torture
The doors of the school opened in 1900, and although it claimed to help boys grow into better men, it has a long history of torture and abuse.
In 1903, a state report read that the children sent to the school were treated as “common criminals” and locked in “in irons.” The kids were known as the “White House boys,” named after a small white house on campus where a lot of the beatings happened.
“You didn’t know when it was coming,” Jerry Cooper, who was sent to the school at age 16, told NPR. “These were not spankings. These were beatings, brutal beatings.”
Although Cooper was sent to the school after hitchhiking and stealing a car, many of the young boys were there simply because they had no other place to live. They were orphans. They didn’t commit crimes. Other boys, according to Cooper, landed at Dozier after smoking cigarettes at their previous schools, or for being “incorrigible.”
Regardless of how or why the boys ended up at the school, hardly any of them were spared abuse.
Cooper said school staff once woke him up at 2 a.m. and took him to “the White House,” where he was tied down and beaten with a leather strap.
“The first blow lifted me a foot and a half off that bed. And every time that strap would come down, you could hear the shuffle on the concrete because their shoes would slide. And you could hear the shoosh, shoosh, bam,” Cooper said.
Another former student, Roger Kiser, said he witnessed a young boy, dead, being pulled out of a large dryer.
“I know of one that I personally saw die in the bathtub that had been beaten half to death. I thought he’d been mauled by the dogs because I thought he had ran. I never did find out the true story on that. There was the boy I saw who was dead who came out of the dryer. They put him in one of those large dryers.”
Meanwhile, according to ABC Action News, another former student insists that there are still more bodies out there, likely buried in unmarked graves.
“We’ve been trying to tell the state of Florida that there’s more bodies out there for a long time,” Bryant Middleton said. “I’m in possession of a list of 130 some odd boys who died at the school or disappeared and whose last known resting place we can’t find.”
Former student Bill Hays, who attended the school from 1958 to 1959, said he was so scared at the school that he begged Jesus for death.
“I was so scared, I begged Jesus to take me out of this world. I think everybody finds Jesus in that place.”
The story continues to develop. Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.
[Feature Photo: AP/The Tampa Bay Times, Edmund D. Fountain, Pool]