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Researchers Identify Two Sets of Boys Remains at Notorious Dozier School

Researchers have identified two sets of human remains excavated from the grounds of a notorious Florida Panhandle reform school where juveniles are believed to have been secretly buried — and where former students allege they were beaten and raped. University of South Florida researchers say scores of children were entombed in 55 unmarked grave shafts at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, a defunct institution closed in June 2011 after state investigators and the U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division confirmed the abuse of young charges over several decades — including beatings, forced labor, and rape. The two sets of remains — revealed through DNA matches as 13-year-old Thomas Varnadoe and 12-year-old Earl Wilson — are the second and third children identified since researchers began scouring the Dozier grounds and nearby woods for the bodies of former charges.

"I'm very pleased with the outcome" of the investigation, Varnadoe's nephew, Glen, told local newspaper The Ledger. "My mission all along was to bring back my uncle's remains. Now I can return his remains back from that atrocity-laden soil."

Researchers began investigating Dozier's dark history more than two years ago in the wake of news reports chronicling disturbing allegations from aging former students and the relatives of deceased children. The Justice Department confirmed pervasive abuse, but a 2009 state investigation did not find evidence of criminal conduct. A group of former students sued the state in 2010 after reports of criminal activity captured national attention in 2008. But the case was tossed out because the statute of limitations had expired.

Scores of graves found at boys’ reform school

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— Daniel Arkin