Former DJJ Secretary Speaks About Identifying Dozier Remains

Posted at 9:08 PM, Sep 26, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-26 17:48:46-04

MARIANNA, Fla. (WTXL)-- The former head of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice speaks out about the importance of finding new remains at the Dozier School for Boys.

"It very well could be --- as we start to exhume more of the bodies and find more of the bodies there --- that there may be evidence of these kids being abused," said Walt McNeil, the former secretary of the DJJ.

McNeil says identifying boys who died at the reform school is necessary to improve the justice system. University of South Florida researchers have identified the second and third sets of remains found at the site of the former Dozier School for Boys in the Jackson County town of Marianna. They began exhumations last year amid questions about whether boys suffered abuse and died at the school with their bodies buried in unmarked graves.

But McNeil says he understands why many people don't want to stir up the past.

"You understand that if it were your child, and you'd been trying to figure out all these years what happened," said McNeil, "I think you owe it to the families to do everything you can to bring closure."

In January, the researchers announced they had exhumed 55 sets of remains from the school grounds. Last month, they identified the first set of remains, George Owen Smith, who went to Dozier at age 14 in 1940 and was never seen by his family again.