Florida politicians apologize for 'abuses' of boys at reform schools

Arthur G. Dozier, Florida School for Boys shut down in 2011

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida politicians issued an acknowledgment and apology Tuesday to students who were sent to the infamous Dozier and Okeechobee reform schools, decades after many suffered abuses and some died.

Arthur G. Dozier School in the Florida panhandle opened in 1900 as a reform institution where children were sent for minor offenses.

A group of men who called themselves the White House Boys spoke out 50 years after they said beatings at the school destroyed their lives.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist called for an investigation in 2009 into the school's practices.

News 6 spoke to several White House Boys, now hardened men in their 60s.

"Physically they would bust the skin and drive your underwear right into your body," Jim Blount, a former resident of the Dozier school said. "Emotionally, there is just no describing the torment and terror.

Blount said the boys were often as young as 10 years old.

George Fudge, another former student at Dozier, told News 6 he couldn't go back out to work because he was bleeding so profusely after a beating.

"They took me to the infirmary and they put Vaseline all over my butt to keep the blood from gushing out," Fudge said.

An investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found that the abuse of boys continued until the school was finally shut down in 2011.

A forensic team led in 2012 by University of South Florida’s Dr. Erin Kimmerle uncovered the bodies of students who died at the Dozier school.

Kimmerle’s team excavated 55 graves, identified seven boys’ remains and identified 14 others through DNA.

The forensic team is still working to identify the rest of the remains.

"What happened to these children was unconscionable. It is long past due for an apology and a recognition of wrongs committed,” Speaker of the Florida House Richard Corcoran said. “It is even more vital that all of us do all we can to assist the victims still with us and commit, in the names of those departed, to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again."

The Florida School for Boys in Okeechobee opened in 1955, where similar abusive practices were rampant, according to the Department of Justice.

An investigation by the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office looked into the deaths of several boys who were killed by school employees paid by the state, the Times reported.

More than 500 students later came forward with reports of physical, mental and sexual abuse by school staff.

Former students of the schools and Kimmerle joined Corcoran on Tuesday for a news conference at which he acknowledged the years of abuse that the boys suffered at the hands of the state.

Corcoran said a Florida House Dozier task force plans to create two memorials and rebury the bodies of the students who were found on school grounds, some of whom were killed in a 1914 fire at the Dozier school.

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