In 2011, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, a small town in Florida’s Panhandle, shut their doors. But an investigation, urged by former residents, into the shocking history of the juvenile facility is now wide open.
At least 96 children died at Dozier between 1914 and 1973, according to school records, and while state officials say there’s no proof, former students insist that some of the deaths were the result of foul play. Boys of all races were routinely, brutally, and even fatally beaten by staff, they allege; some were raped, and “runners” were fired upon—at least seven kids were reported dead after trying to escape.
The men who fought for the investigation are now well into their 60’s and recently returned to the facility. Their memories of abuse and torture are chilling.
The boys were disciplined in a building known as the White House. “We had to call it a ‘spanking,’” Gaddy says, recalling one of his trips there. Mr. Mobley “told me to lay on the bed. There was like a military bed and it had a rail, and I had to grab the rail and hold that bed. And when he hit me, I had never experienced a lick like that in my life. And I prayed to God, Mama, whoever would come and help me out of this predicament. When he hit me, I jumped up. And he said, ‘Boy, if you don’t get back on that bed, I’ll kill you right now!’ He had a belt that had holes in it, and every time he would hit me, it would suck the skin from my behind. All the boys would know you’re bloody from the waist down. All they’d ask: ‘Well? Did you hold the bed?’”
It is now known that the atrocities at Dozier were even worse than anyone had feared.
[A]fter years of agitating by former Dozier boys, researchers from the University of South Florida got permission to unearth bodies from the grounds and run tests to determine who those boys were—and how they died. Last month, the scientists came out with an announcement that was disturbing, if not surprising. They had excavated 55 sets of remains at Dozier’s Boot Hill cemetery, 5 more than they’d originally identified, and 24 more than were indicated in the school’s official records. Other campus locations remain to be searched.