USF researchers identify first set of Dozier remains

Published: Friday, August 8, 2014 at 12:40 PM.

TAMPA- Researchers from the University of South Florida say the first set of remains from the now-closed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys has been identified.

Forensic experts announced Thursday they used DNA and other tests to make the identification of George Owen Smith, who is said to have disappeared from the reform school in 1940 at the age of 14. The cause of Smith's death has not been determined.

His remains, which were identified through a matching DNA sample from Smith's sister, are reported to have been wrapped in only a burial shroud in a "hastily dug grave."

Lead researcher Erin Kimmerle said while Smith's full story may have died with him, the university is hopeful identifying his remains will help the family gain closure.

"We may never know the full circumstances of what happened to Owen or why his case was handled the way it was," said Kimmerle in a press release. "But we do know that he now will be buried under his own name and beside family members who longed for answers."

According to the university, Smith's mother wrote the school in 1940 inquiring about his well-being. What she received from then-administrator Millard Davidson was a letter stating that no one knew where he was. The following January, Smith's family were notified he died after an escape attempt and was taken to an unmarked grave when they arrived to claim his body.

Official records indicate 31 burials at the school, but researchers found the 55 sets of remains during the excavation project.

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