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GEORGE OWEN SMITH (Dozier School) - 14 yo (1940) - Marianna FL

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GEORGE OWEN SMITH (Dozier School) - 14 yo (1940) - Marianna FL Empty GEORGE OWEN SMITH (Dozier School) - 14 yo (1940) - Marianna FL

Post by mom_in_il Fri Aug 08, 2014 4:47 pm

Researchers identified body of boy buried at Dozier School for Boys in 1940

Author: Chris Parenteau, General assignment reporter
Published On: Aug 07 2014 01:22:11 PM EDT
Updated On: Aug 07 2014 05:16:32 PM EDT

TAMPA, Fla. - University of South Florida researchers say they have used DNA testing for the first time to identify the remains of a boy buried at an unmarked grave at a reform school 74 years ago.

George Owen Smith, a 14-year-old sent to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in 1940 never to be seen alive by his family again, has been positively identified through a DNA match and will be the first remains exhumed from 55 unmarked graves by University of South Florida researchers to be returned to his family.

Smith, who's body was found in grave about two feet deep, wrapped only in a burial shroud, was positively matched with DNA collected from his sister, Ovell Krell of Polk County.

Researchers are continuing to work to identify the other remains recovered from the unmarked cemetery at the former Florida reform school in Marianna.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection along with the Florida Cabinet this week extended the permit for research work to continue on the Dozier site until Aug. 5, 2015.

Researchers will look for other possible remains, piece together answers on the identities of those buried there, and work with cabinet member and

The positive identification was made through a DNA sample collected from Krell and matched at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, which had extracted DNA from a skeletal analysis.

"I told my mother and father on their death beds that I would find my brother if it was in my power," Krell said.

"This is closure and the relief of a lot of heartache. I had a good life with my brother before he died."

Lead researcher Dr. Erin Kimmerle from USF says that Smith's parents were told that their son ran away from school and was found under a house after escaping.

“We may never know the full circumstances of what happened to Owen or why his case was handled the way it was,” said Kimmerle

“But we do know that he now will be buried under his own name and beside family members who longed for answers.

“After all these years, this child will be afforded dignity that is every human being’s right - the right to be buried under their own name and to have their existence recognized.”

Dr. Kimmerle says that they have another tentative case that might be matched and identified next week.

Additionally, researchers will continue to search for victims of a 1914 fire at the school which is believed to have killed 10 boys. During their excavation of the unmarked burial ground known as Boot Hill, the researchers found evidence of burned remains but did not locate all of the presumed victims of the 1914 fire.

Since 2011, USF researchers have been searching for records and the identities of scores of boys buried at the school. The remains were excavated from 55 grave shafts at the site.

Researchers continue to work with UNTHSC, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to locate possible next of kin to collect reference samples for identification.

The researchers spent months last year digging up school's graveyard. Official records indicated 31 burials, but researchers found the remains of 55 people.

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GEORGE OWEN SMITH (Dozier School) - 14 yo (1940) - Marianna FL Empty Re: GEORGE OWEN SMITH (Dozier School) - 14 yo (1940) - Marianna FL

Post by mom_in_il Mon Oct 06, 2014 5:33 pm

Two more sets of remains from Dozier School for Boys identified

By Tamara Lush, Associated Press
Last Updated: Thursday, September 25, 2014, 4:33 PM

TAMPA -- Researchers have identified two more sets of remains buried on the grounds of a former Florida Panhandle reform school for over a half-century, the team announced Thursday.

The University of South Florida team said it has identified the remains of 13-year-old Thomas Varnadoe and 12-year-old Earl Wilson, who both died while confined at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

Varnadoe died in 1934, reportedly of pneumonia. Wilson was beaten to death in 1944, reportedly by four other boys while in a small confinement cottage on the property, known as the "sweat box.'' The other boys were convicted in his death.

In August, researchers said they had identified George Owen Smith as the first of 55 bodies they exhumed from the school property.

Some former students from the 1950s and 1960s have for at least a decade accused employees and guards at the school of physical and sexual abuse, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded after an investigation that it couldn't substantiate or dispute the claims because too much time had passed.

Many former Dozier inmates from that era call themselves "The White House Boys'' after the white building where they say the worst abuse took place.

Thomas Varnadoe's nephew, Glen Varnadoe, said at a Thursday news conference that his father also was sent to the school.

"It's been a long road for me and my family,'' said Varnadoe, of Polk County.

It was a priority for the family to "remove (Thomas) from the atrocity-laden soils.''

Over the decades, both boys' families wondered where the children were buried. The Varnadoe family also questioned the cause of death.

"We got the report that he died from pneumonia. We didn't believe that in a minute,'' said Richard Varnadoe, who is 85 but was 5 years old when his older brother Thomas was sent to the school for allegedly stealing a typewriter.

Richard provided DNA to the researchers and it was a perfect match with the body found in one of the simple wooden caskets.

"It's been really bad in a way and really good in a way. It's almost unbelievable to go back 80 years,'' he said. "I'm elated.''

A large photo of the wooded area where the graves were found, along with a grainy picture of Thomas and a photo of the sweat box were displayed at the news conference.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said the investigation "has only just begun.''

"There's a lot of mysteries still out there,'' he said.

Records showed 31 burials at the Marianna school between its opening in 1900 and its 2011 closure for budget reasons. But USF researchers found the remains of 24 additional people between last September and December.

In 2008, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice held a ceremony to officially "seal'' the building and recognize the boys who passed through it.

Some of "The White House Boys'' were present and media coverage of the event, as well as an order from then-Gov. Charlie Crist, led to the investigation. Researchers, reacting to the allegations, excavated the graveyard at the school.

At its peak in the 1960s, 500 boys were housed at the Dozier school, most of them for minor offenses such as petty theft, truancy or running away from home.

In 1968, when corporal punishment was outlawed at state-run institutions, then-Gov. Claude Kirk visited and found the institution in disrepair with leaky ceilings, holes in walls, cramped sleeping quarters, no heating for the winters and buckets used as toilets.

"If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances,'' he said then, "you'd be up there with rifles.''

Some of the bodies were found under roads or overgrown trees, well away from the white, metal crosses marking the 31 officially recorded graves.

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