MARIANNA, Fla. Families from the old Dozier School held hands and prayed, "We are mighty that you have watched over us", before researchers with the USF began digging up graves Saturday morning.
John Due brought his family to learn the history. "The project has been approved to dig up the graves. I thought this would have been the last opportunity I would have my grandson come here to understand what the story is."
Dr. Erin Kimmerle heads up the research team and says will take at least a year to dig up remains, identify them and return them to families if possible. The rest will be reburied on site. "Caskets and markers and every individual has a unique number and all that DNA stays on file, so in theory in the future if some, if a family was located or came forward they can match, and have a Sense of Closure."
Some of the former students were present. Some of them like Arthur Huntley say that finally justice is being served. "I feel I don't know it's kinda of un explainable like a different, like a new life, like a resurrection."
Researchers say they hope to start finding remains by Monday.The University of North Texas is also teaming up with USF with identifying remains through D-N-A matches.
Meanwhile, former students and family members held a memorial service.
The group that calls themselves the "Black Boys at Dozier Reform School" recalled their years of physical and emotional abuse that teachers inflicted on them.
Many say they were beaten and put into solitary confinement. Family members say they never knew about the abuse because school authorities supervised letters their children sent home.
Former students at the memorial spoke up about their experiences. "What's important is the brutality of this situation be known so that history can't repeat itself".
"We went through a living hell here in Marianna"
The memorial was held at Mizer's Church.
Researchers believe a total of 49 graves of unidentified children exist around the school. Most of those are marked with plain white crosses, others have no markings.