Investigation of graves at reform school defended

, The Associated Press

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The Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Wednesday defended its 2009 investigation of alleged abuse at a now-defunct Panhandle reform school in response to conflicting information in a recent academic study.

The University of South Florida's interim study cited 13 more deaths and 19 more gravesites at the school than listed in the FDLE's investigative report. FDLE officials attributed the variations in part to the differing natures of criminal investigations and anthropological research.

"While both have value, each has a different standard and scope," the agency said in a statement.

But the FDLE also disputed some of the information and assumptions in the university's study released Dec. 10.

The criminal investigation was unable to substantiate or refute claims by former students of physical and sexual abuse, including deaths, that allegedly occurred decades ago at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. The school opened in Marianna, about 60 miles west of Tallahassee, in 1900 and was closed last year as a cost-cutting move.

FDLE investigators identified 85 student deaths and 31 gravesites in their report three years ago. The university's study reported 98 student and two staff deaths as well as at least 50 gravesites in an on-campus cemetery known as "Boot Hill." The anthropologists, though, suspect there could be more graves elsewhere on campus and have called for additional research including the exhumation of remains to help determine causes of death.

FDLE officials said the university study included "probable" and "possible" information that has limited or no value in a criminal investigation.

The university's lead researcher, Erin Kimmerle, did not immediately respond to a telephone message and email seeking comment.

Students ranging in age from 6 to 18 in some instances died due to fire, disease, physical trauma or drowning, but in most cases the causes of death are unknown.

A five-page FDLE report issued Wednesday in response to questions raised by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam at a Cabinet meeting last week noted the university researchers used ground-penetrating radar to identify possible gravesites.

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