In total, authorities already have unearthed remains of 55 bodies at the shuttered Dozier School for Boys, where ex-inmates alleged horrific abuse
Twenty-seven possible graves were found on the site of an infamous defunct Florida reform school where former students said they were beaten and sexually abused.
Graves at the former property of the Dozier School for Boys, west of Tallahassee, have been found in the past. The recent discovery would bring the number of known burials to 82.
The latest revelation comes from ground-penetrating radar used during pollution cleanup work at the site, according to a letter sent Wednesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis and reviewed by PEOPLE.
The discovery reinforces allegations made by several men, many then in their 60’s and 70’s, who in 2008 joined to recount stories of horrors they experienced and demand an accounting for what they say happened to them and others imprisoned as children at the school that closed in 2011.
The remains of 55 bodies already had been unearthed in the Boot Hill Cemetery affiliated with the school under prior excavation work overseen by anthropologists with the University of South Florida — many more than were believed to exist, according to estimates based on historical records, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
PVC pipe crosses marking 31 grave sites in that cemetery had little correlation to bodies buried below, reports the Orlando Sentinel. The newest discoveries are outside of the cemetery, within a sector for African-American boys in what prior to 1968 remained a segregated rural campus.
As many as 100 or more deaths — including those who died in a 1914 fire — may have occurred on the campus during its 111-year existence, according to estimates from university researchers, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
‘I Know for a Fact That Some Boys Died’
The men who came forth to allege horrific acts undertaken during their years at the school organized themselves as the “White House Boys,” so named after the squat, white cinderblock building where they say they experienced or witnessed harrowing beatings, sexual abuse and death.
“Some of the ‘boys’ who didn’t know each other were telling me the same stories,” former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told PEOPLE in 2013. “Some of the children who died were as young as 6. We needed to investigate.”
A former inmate at the school, Roger Kiser, told PEOPLE that same year: “I was raised in an orphanage. When I was 13, I ran away, and a judge sent me to Dozier. I saw the campus and thought, ‘I’m in heaven.’ But the abuse started immediately.”
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“I was assigned to work in the hospital,” he said. “I saw boys with all sorts of injuries. One of the adults took a liking to me and would make me perform sex acts on myself while he watched. I know for a fact that some boys died. Two boys put another boy in the washer and killed him. He was buried in the graveyard. When boys ran, the guards would release the dogs to tear them up.”
“It has taken a long time, but now everyone knows I was telling the truth after all,” he said.
The latest revelation affirms the beliefs of Bryant Middleton, of Fort Walton Beach, who was sent to Dozier for “incorrigibility” in 1959, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“We’ve been trying to tell the state of Florida that there’s more bodies out there for a long time,” he told the outlet. “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.”
In 2017, resolutions formally apologizing for the abuse of children at Dozier were passed by the Florida House and Senate, reports WTXL.
In 2018 the state deeded about 360 acres of the school’s former property in Marianna, on Florida’s Panhandle, to Jackson County.
The governor’s letter to Chairman Clint Pate of the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners asked the county to “develop a path forward” while cleanup at the site continues “to ensure this issue is handled with the utmost sensitivity and care.”
If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.