Thursday 19 October 2017

Fear dozens of borstal boys murdered as bodies found

Jon Swaine New York

Human remains have been found buried in the grounds of a notorious former borstal in Florida amid fears that dozens of pupils were secretly killed there more than 50 years ago.

The skeletons of two youths were discovered during an excavation this week at the Arthur G Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, near the border with Alabama, which closed in 2011.

Radar searches have indicated that as many as 50 graves are located in one area near the dreaded school for young offenders, where former pupils say boys were beaten, raped and tortured by staff.

Robert Straley, who attended for 10 months after stealing a car at 13, estimates that more than 100 boys were killed over the decades.

"The school opened in 1900 and the very ground it sets on is soaked in their blood," he said.

Mr Straley, now 63, recalled feeling that his "spine was going to crack" when he was regularly abused by two men, who would visit him as he slept and drag him to a basement.

Most of those who disappeared are believed to have been black youths, whose families had no way of finding out what happened to them, during racial segregation in the South of the US.

Erin Kimmerle, an anthropologist from the University of South Florida, who led the excavation, said the two youths whose remains had been recovered so far were probably aged between 10 and 13.

The family of one former pupil, Owen Smith, said they were told by the school he died of pneumonia after crawling under a building to stay warm.

However, a friend said that Owen tried to run away and was shot. Owen's sister Ovell, now 84, told CNN: "I believe to this day that they shot my brother that night, and I think they probably killed him and brought him back to the school and buried him."

Florida authorities began looking into the allegations of abuse in 2008, after a group of former pupils were reunited and lobbied for an inquiry.

ATTENTION

A report in 2009 accounted for 31 boys buried around the school. However, it did not explain what happened to dozens of other pupils believed to have died there, whose bodies have not been found.

Elmore Bryant, a leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), who lives in Marianna, said: "They were poor kids and a lot of times, people never came to visit them.

"Even when they were dismissed, they got home, their family had moved. So, who was going to pay attention if something happened to them while they was at Dozier?"

Wansley Walters, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice secretary, pledged to get to the bottom of the case. "What we have now is an opportunity to really get down to the truth."

Troy Tidwell, a one-armed former staff member at the school accused of abuse by several pupils, denied anyone was ever beaten or murdered.

Police and prosecutors said they did not expect anyone to be held legally accountable for deaths at the school.

"The mission is really for the families," said Ms Kimmerle. "That's why we're here." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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