Marianna residents ready for Dozier saga to come to a close

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MARIANNA, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Researchers with the University of South Florida are nearly a week into their investigation of 27 possible graves identified in April at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

The investigation was ordered by the Department of State following a routine environmental cleanup on the former school grounds that accidentally identified the anomalies while using ground-penetrating radar. (Capitol News Service)

The team is headed by Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at the university.

“The only way to really know [what's there] is to excavate so that's what we're doing and we'll see what it is,” said Dr. Kimmerle.

The excavation is the latest chapter in the 111-year Dozier saga. Reports of child abuse and the discovery of 55 sets of human remains on the school grounds cast a shadow of controversy over Marianna during the first dig in 2013.

“You're being branded as if this is a concentration camp city and the entire community felt under attack,” said Art Kimbrough, the former CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce who has been intently involved in the Dozier saga.

Kimbrough said the community reaction to the new excavation is nothing like what was seen six years ago.

“It's much more of an intellectual exercise this time than it is an emotional exercise,” said Kimbrough. "Let's just do the things needed to bring proper and permanent closure to this matter.”

Survivors of abuse at the reform school believe more bodies will be found.

Even if the 27 anomalies don’t end up being human remains, ground-penetrating radar will map the entire campus to end the speculation once and for all.

"And that's why the community leaders have been so for getting the answers and doing it right this time because it does bring closure when you have truth and the answers,” said Kimbrough.

When the school closed its doors in 2011, it also put more than 200 employees out of work.

Community leaders hope the Dozier property can eventually be re-purposed for new industries to move to the area.