Researchers find more graves at Dozier than state said existed
For years, Richard Varnadoe has longed to know where the state buried his brother, Thomas, who died at 13 as a ward of Florida’s oldest reform school in the Panhandle town of Marianna.
“I feel an obligation that the truth has to come out, what happened to him,” said Varnadoe, 83. “I am the last hope. . . . I’m the last sibling.”
New evidence unearthed by researchers at the University of South Florida may shed light on where Thomas and dozens of other boys who died in state custody are buried. The team has identified at least 49 graves in and near the notorious school’s known cemetery, north of the campus. That’s 18 more than the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found during a 2009 investigation.
Researchers have also found “sufficient evidence” to conclude there’s likely another clandestine cemetery on school property, in a patch of woods on the south side of campus, which had been reserved for white students during segregation.
Led by Erin Kimmerle, associate professor of anthropology at USF, the researchers petitioned the state to use ground penetrating radar to try to find the second cemetery and determine how many graves it contained. But the state denied the petition in August because it intended to sell 220 acres at public auction. The school, widely known as the Florida School for Boys or Dozier School for Boys, closed in 2011, after 111 years of operation.
The Department of Juvenile Justice reversed its stance Thursday afternoon, a day after Thomas Varnadoe’s nephew, Glen Varnadoe, filed a lawsuit to put a stop to the sale.
“After careful consideration, we will work with the researchers on how best to provide them access to the site,” said DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters.
For the full article click here.