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Could DNA Finally Explain 98 Reform School Deaths?

Dozens of children died at Florida school between 1914 and 1973
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 15, 2013 9:55 AM CDT
Could DNA Finally Explain 98 Reform School Deaths?
Dick Colon, right, and Mike McCarthy, left, recall their time at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys during ceremonies dedicating a memorial to the boys' suffering, Oct. 21, 2008, in Marianna, Fla.   (AP Photo/Phil Coale)

Between 1914 and 1973, a Florida reform school—once the nation's largest—saw 98 deaths, of which 96 were children between ages 6 and 18, researchers have confirmed. But the deaths remain cloaked in mystery, and many of the bodies have never been recovered. Now, researchers at the University of South Florida are using DNA tests on victims' relatives to shed light on the story, the AP reports. According to records, 45 people were buried on the property of the now-closed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys between 1914 and 1952; researchers believe there might be more.

They're seeking permits to exhume bodies, hoping to compare DNA from at least seven relatives to local remains. "We're bringing a last measure of human dignity for these boys," says a professor. Just three years after the school opened in 1900, a probe found kids "in irons, just as common criminals"; during the 1950s and early 1960s, boys were beaten with a leather and metal strap for crimes like singing or talking to black peers. Most of the buried children were black, experts say. At least 50 graves have already been discovered, says US Sen. Bill Nelson. "The families deserve the answers. They deserve to know the truth." (Read more DNA stories.)

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