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Florida seeks exhumations of bodies at former boys' school

White metal crosses mark graves at the cemetery of the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, December 10, 2012. REUT
White metal crosses mark graves at the cemetery of the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, December 10, 2012. REUT

MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida's attorney general asked a judge on Tuesday to allow a medical examiner to exhume the remains of young boys buried on the grounds of a former state reform school.

The Dozier School, in the Florida Panhandle city of Marianna, has been the target of numerous allegations of abuse and mysterious deaths of children. The school was closed in 2011.

In December, investigators identified at least 50 graves on the school's property and anthropologists said research had identified evidence of more grave shafts in a cemetery at the school.

The petition by Attorney General Pam Bondi seeks a court order to exhume human remains from the cemetery and surrounding areas, where it is believed there may be unmarked graves and unaccounted bodies of boys who died at the school between 1900 and 1952.

"The deaths that occurred at Dozier School for Boys in Marianna are cloaked in mystery, and the surviving family members deserve a thorough examination of the site," Bondi said in a statement.

Autopsies and medical investigations would be conducted on the remains to determine the cause of death, the statement said.

A 2008-2009 study by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that relied on the school's own records reported that 81 people had died at the school and 31 were buried on school property. Their graves were marked by white metal crosses.

Researchers and students at the University of South Florida in Tampa found records of 98 deaths of boys between ages 6 and 18, plus two adult staff members at the school between 1914 and 1973.

The research, which included an examination of state death records, revealed missing, conflicting and "sloppy" record-keeping about the people buried at Dozier and how they died.

The most common causes of death were disease, fire, physical trauma and drowning.

But seven boys died during escape attempts - including one 16-year-old who suffered gunshot wounds to the chest - and 20 died within the first three months of arrival, the report said.

(Reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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