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Dozier School For Boys: Grave Excavation Begins
Dozens of shallow graves at a former Florida reform school are being exhumed in the hope of identifying the boys buried there and learning how they died.
Researchers from the University of South Florida (USF) are removing dirt with trowels and by hand to find the remains, which are believed to be buried between 19in (48cm) and 3ft (1m) beneath the surface.
"In these historic cases, it's really about having an accurate record and finding out what happened and knowing the truth about what happened," said Erin Kimmerle, an anthropologist from USF who is leading the excavation.
Former inmates at the Arthur G Dozier School for Boys from the 1950s and 1960s have detailed horrific beatings that took place in a small, white concrete block building at the facility.
A group of survivors calling themselves the White House Boys demanded an investigation into the graves five years ago.
In 2010, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ended an investigation and said it could not substantiate or refute claims that boys died at the hands of staff.
USF later began its own research and discovered even more graves than the state department had identified.
The university has worked for months to secure a permit to exhume the remains, finally receiving permission from Governor Rick Scott and the state cabinet after being rejected by Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
Robert Straley, a spokesman for the White House Boys, said the school segregated white and black inmates and that the remains are located where black inmates were held.
He suspects there is another white cemetery that has not been discovered.
"I think that there are at least 100 more bodies up there," Mr Straley said. "At some point they are going to find more bodies, I'm dead certain of that. There has to be a white graveyard on the white side."
Among those who have pushed to allow USF to conduct the research are Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi and Democratic US Senator Bill Nelson.
"My goal all along has been to help bring closure to the families who lost loved ones at Dozier," Ms Bondi said through a spokeswoman. "I feel great relief that the work to identify human remains is now underway."
The USF team will work at the site until Tuesday and hopes to unearth the remains of up to four boys before resuming the excavation at a later date, Ms Kimmerle said.
DNA obtained at the site will be sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification for analysis, in the hope it can be matched to relatives.
Ten families who believe their relatives might be buried at Dozier have contacted researchers.
If matches are found, remains will be returned to the families.