Workers may have found 27 more human graves near a notorious Florida reform school shuttered in 2011, where children were said to have been locked in chains, beaten and sexually abused.
‘Anomalies consistent with possible graves’ were uncovered at the site of the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in the Florida Panhandle city of Marianna.
Department of Environmental Protection workers made the discovery as they were preparing to clean up fuel storage 500 feet adjacent to Boot Hill Cemetery, Miami Herald reports.
The discovery would put the estimated number of bodies buried at the site at 82.
It is at this site where 31 graves are marked with white crosses, but researchers said they believed they do not correspond with actual burial sites.
State officials have for years insisted that 31 boys were interred in the tiny cemetery.
But using high-tech search equipment, forensic scientists have already found evidence of more bodies buried under the site.
The University of South Florida in Tampa said in 2012 they found evidence of at least 50 graves on the school’s property after using ground-penetrating radar and soil samples.
A 2009 investigation report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), found that there were 81 school-related deaths of students from 1911 to 1973.
But another investigation in 2012, by the University of Florida tea, found as many as 98 deaths at the school from 1914-1973 – including two staff members who perished in the 1914 fire. Some of the bodies were thought to have been shipped home to families but many were buried around the area.
However, overgrowth on the grounds has hindered researchers from full searches.
Dozier’s own records show that more than 50 children were buried on the grounds, while more than 30 other bodies were sent elsewhere to be buried.
But the school failed to record burial locations for 22 other children who researchers learned died on the site, the Miami Herald reported in 2012.
Six of the children – and two adults – died in the 2014 fire. Several more were killed in an influenza outbreak in the early 1900s.
Some boys died under unknown circumstances, according to relatives.
Governor Ron DeSantis wrote in a Wednesday letter to Jackson County Chairman Clint Pate that ‘during a ground pollution cleanup… anomalies consistent with possible graves have been discovered.’
He said his team ‘is dedicated to collaboratively determining the best course of action’ and shared the DEP, Department of Management Services, the Department of State and the Department of Economic Opportunity would ‘develop a path forward’.
‘Representatives of these agencies will be reaching out to meet with county officials as the first step to understanding and addressing these preliminary findings,’ he stated.
County Administrator Wilanne Daniels said in a statement: ‘We have received the report and are studying the information and findings. We will be working with our State Agency partners to determine the next steps.’
Former students spoke out several years ago with horror stories of sexual abuse and frequent beatings in the White House, at the school.
The school was legend among adolescents for about 100 years in Florida, as the state’s major reform school.
Dozier School was closed in June 2011 by the Department of Juvenile Justice after a years-long controversy over widespread physical and sexual abuse.
Previous investigations and lawsuits have been brought by the ‘White House Boys’ – so called because of the name of the squat, whitewashed building where much of the abuse took place.
A group of former students sued the state in 2010, but their case was dismissed as the statute of limitations had expired. Other students have written books about their experiences.
State Attorney Glenn Hess previously said only one or two employees from the era are known to be alive, and it’s unlikely a trial could prove how a boy died or who was responsible.