Gov. gives go-ahead to exhume bodies at Dozier School

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. —

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet voted to allow university researchers to identify human remains at a defunct reform school on Tuesday, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Scott and the Cabinet granted permission to University of South Florida researchers to exhume bodies buried near the Arthur G. Dozier School in Marianna.

The vote drew a round of applause from former students of the reform school in the audience.

Dozier was a state-run reform school in the panhandle that opened in 1900 and closed in 2011.

University of South Florida researchers believe there are dozens of unidentified bodies buried at the school, but several efforts to exhume them have been blocked. However, there's a new push from the governor's office to find the bodies.

Hundreds of the alleged victims said the brutal and bloody beatings happened in the school, which they nicknamed the White House. In the 1950s and '60s, they say some never made it out alive, and a USF archaeologist found evidence of 100 bodies burned on the grounds in Marianna.

"This decision puts us a step closer to finishing the investigation," said Nelson in a press release. "Nothing can bring these boys back, but I'm hopeful that their families will now get the closure they deserve."

Secretary of State Ken Detzner in mid-July told researchers that his department -- which oversees historical resources -- didn't have the legal authority to grant the request. The site, located about 60 miles west of Tallahassee, is state-owned.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, however, pushed to get the agency that manages state lands to grant USF a one-year permit. Last week, Scott and the three Cabinet members said they would support the request.

Nelson got involved after a Polk County man asked the lawmaker's office for help last year in locating his uncle's remains known to be buried in an unmarked cemetery on the grounds of the reform school.

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