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DNA Testing Identifies Another Victim Of Brutal Florida Reform School

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Florida, researchers have identified the remains of a 15-year-old boy who died in state custody almost eight decades ago. The teenager was at Florida's Dozier School for Boys, a reform school where kids were sentenced for various misdeeds. As Mark Schreiner from member station WUSF reports, dozens of kids died under mysterious circumstances. And just a warning, some people might find this report disturbing.

MARK SCHREINER, BYLINE: The reformed school was open more than a century and closed in 2011. For decades, there were rumors that school officials whipped, tortured and even murdered students. The school was located in Marianna in the Florida Panhandle. For the past few years, researchers at the University of South Florida have tried to find out what happened. They've paid special attention to 51 sets of remains they found in an unmarked graveyard on school property. They just identified a sixth victim - Robert Stephens, who was stabbed by a classmate in 1937. His nephew, also named Robert Stephens, gave a DNA sample two years ago. Until then, he had no idea about this part of his history.

ROBERT STEPHENS: So the story wasn't, you know, related to me that I was named after my uncle that had passed away at the school. So up until when I got to USF and saw my name on the board as far as, you know, one of the people that was missing and deceased, that's when I found out that's who I was named after.

SCHREINER: Researchers received an extension to access the school grounds through the end of January. That's when their final report is to be turned into the state. There are still questions about how the dead will be honored. Forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle says it should be something more than a plaque.

ERIN KIMMERLE: We're thinking of it in a much broader sense and in a more transformative sense, in that how do we take all this information and what's been done and learned and experienced and try to turn it into something positive and move forward.

SCHREINER: The team is also working with the state and the Florida NAACP to create a reburial plan for the remains that might never be identified. For NPR News, I'm Mark Schreiner in Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.