Florida officials gave a team of anthropologists the green light Tuesday to excavate the bodies of dozens of boys who mysteriously died and were buried on the grounds of a now-defunct reform school.
Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Cabinet members signed off on the order allowing a team of researchers from the University of South Florida to investigate the graves of 50 boys found on the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla., which closed in 2011 for budgetary reasons.
Former students have long claimed that they were brutally abused, both physically and sexually, and some have said the abuse contributed to the deaths of many of the school's wards, according to the Miami Herald
. The mysterious deaths likely happened between 1914 and 1952.
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"We have fought so hard to get to this point," former student Bryant Middleton, 68, told the Herald. "They're going to find out the truth."
The former wards recalled being savagely beaten, bludgeoned, and raped while at the reform school. One who was incarcerated at Dozier in the 1950s called it a "concentration camp for little boys."
Researchers began looking into their claims two years ago
and had been locked in a back and forth with the state over rights to exhume the bodies in the graves, NBC News reported
School records showed that 31 boys who died in a fire and influenza outbreak are buried on the grounds, but the other 19 are unaccounted for, the University of South Florida team said.
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Some local officials, however, don't understand the point of the excavation.
"Are we trying to determine if bad things happened 100 years ago in America?" Jackson County Commissioner Jeremy Branch asked. "We know bad things happened in America."
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