State Extends Dozier Excavation Permits

By: Tom Lewis
By: Tom Lewis

It appears excavation work at the old Dozier School for Boys will continue for another year.

State officials have extended the permit for a University of South Florida researcher, who's trying to locate remains in unmarked graves.
The extension comes as she announced her first major success today.

University of South Florida officials say Dr. Erin Kimmerle's goal has always been to locate any undocumented remains at the old Dozier School for Boys, and identity as many of the corpses as possible.

Thursday, Kimmerle was able to announce the first identification, a 14 year old boy named George Owen Smith.

"When Owen went missing in 1940, he'd run away from the school. His remains were found several months later, decomposing under a house 2-miles away," said Dr. Erin Kimmerle, University of South Florida.

Smith's family drove from central Florida to Marianna to retrieve his body.
But they say Dozier staff had already buried him.
The body remained in the unmarked grave until last year, when Kimmerle's team excavated the site.
They used a DNA sample from Smith's sister, Ovell Krell, who's now 86 years old, to identify him.

"I was searching for him not only out of my love, but for a vowed I had made to my mother and father, on their death beds, that I would find my brother if it was within my power," said Ovell Krell, Smith's Sister.

"While we may never know the full circumstances about Owen's death, or why his case was handled the way it was, we do know that he will now be buried under his own name, beside family members who longed for answers."

Buoyed by this first success, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Cabinet extended Kimmerle's excavation permit at Dozier for another year, until August 5th, 2015.

"The Florida Cabinet will fight to insure that all of these cases are investigated, that the graves are uncovered, and and that justice is brought to these families, justice meaning closure," said Pam Bondi, FL Attorney General.

The dark cloud that hangs over Dozier arrived nearly a decade ago.
That's when the stories of a group of former inmates, calling themselves the white house boys, began to get widespread attention.

The men claim they were tortured, and that other boys at the reform school were murdered and buried in the unmarked graves around the campus.

While USF officials say their work is not focused on investigating murder claims, some locals continue to insist the entire process has been damaging to the Jackson County community, and aren't anxious to see it continue.

"The bigger question is, is we spent $640,000, so far, on this matter. The cabinet has given them another year, which means that you can expect hundred and hundred of thousand of dollars of more tax payer money to be spent on this and yet today they have produced no evidence of a single murder of a student by a staff member," said Dale Cox, Jackson Co. Resident/Historian.

But Cox does agree with the idea of identifying the undocumented remains.

"Locate their families, identify them, that way if their families actually want the remains, they can be returned to them. I'd much rather see the money spent on that."

Kimmerle says she and her team will continue to search for victims of the 1914 fire at Dozier which is believed to have killed 10 boys.
She believes some of the victims are still buried in unmarked graves.


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