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.
Researchers, who received $190,000 in funding from the state for the project, as well as a $423,528 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, were given one year to exhume, identify and rebury the remains, as well as locate additional burials at the school. The Dozier project is funded by both the State of Florida and the National Institute of Justice.
USF researchers are still asking the public to help identify the remains. Researchers provided a list earlier of children whose remains they believe they have, along with their parent or guardian's name, year received at Dozier, and their last known city of residence.
Anyone recognizing a name on the list is asked to contact Master Detective Greg Thomas of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 813-247-8678.
The remains of the following boys are believed to be in care of USF researchers:
· Willie Adkins, George Adkins, 1918, Tampa or possibly Polk County
· Thomas Aikins, Nancy Aikins, 1918, Jacksonville, Florida
· Joe Anderson, Ben Anderson, 1919, Lake County, Florida
· Walter Askew, Toeury Askew, 1925, Palm Beach, Florida
· Samuel Bethel, John Bethel, 1929, 443 N.W. 9 St., Miami, Florida
· James Brinson, Elizabeth Payton (Aunt), 1932, Putnam County, Florida
· Waldo Drew, Unknown, 1914, Pinellas County, Florida
· Lloyd Dutton, E.W. Dillon, 1918, Ft. Myers, Florida
· Louis Fernandez, Unknown, 1914, Monroe County, Florida
· Hilton Finley, J.D. Finley, 1918, Tampa, Florida
· Walter Fisher, Unknown, 1914, Hillsborough County, Florida
· Edward Fonders, Mamie Smith & Jim Fonders, 1925, Melborne, Florida
· George Grissam, Peg Grissam, 1918, Caryville, Washington County, Florida
· Louis Haffin, Unknown, 1914, Duval County, Florida
· James /Joseph Hammond, Blanche Isham, 1936, Palm Beach or Jensen, Florida
· Schley Hunter, M. Hunter, 1922, Mayo, Florida
· Billey Jackson, Suzie and B.J. Jackson, 1952, Daytona Beach, Florida
· Joshua James, Unknown, 1916, Unknown
· Clifford Jeffords, Unknown, 1914, Pinellas County, Florida
· Clifford Miller, John Miller, 1924, Lake County, Florida
· Tillman Mohind, J.P. Mohind, 1916, Duval County, Florida
· Sam Morgan, E. Morgan, 1921, Lee County, Florida
· Richard Nelson, Unknown, 1935, Lake County, Florida
· Charlie Overstreet, Mamie Jones, 1924, Marvin, Georgia
· Clarence Parrot, Unknown, 1914, Sutherland or Palm Harbor, Florida
· Robert Rhoden, Annie Doe & Jeff Rhoden, 1929, 441 12th St. N, St. Petersburg
· Fred Sams, Theodora Onie (Aunt), 1932, Jacksonville, Florida
· Nathaniel Sawyer, S. Sawyer, 1920, R13, Box 677, Jacksonville, Florida
· Archie J. Shaw Jr., Archie J. Shaw Sr., 1932, 1609 Central Ave., Tampa, Florida
· Leonard Simmons, Ben Simmons, 1919, Miami, Florida
· Wilbur Smith, Tam Smith, 1918, Tampa, Florida
· Lee Smith, Rev. W.M. Smith, 1932, 18th Ave, Jacksonville, Florida
· Joe Stephens, Luke (Brother) & Elizabeth Stephens (Sister), 1932, Brevard County, Florida or possibly South Carolina
· Lee Underwood, Olivia & Dave Underwood, 1932, Jacksonville, Florida
· Puner Warner, Unknown, 1918, Atlanta, Georgia
· Joseph Wethersby, Fred Wethersby, 1914, Duval County, Florida
· Harry Wells, Unknown, 1914, Duval County, Florida
· Ralph Whiddon, Cornelius Whiddon, 1918, Charlotte Harbor, Florida
· Sim Williams, Unknown, 1916, Jackson County, Florida
· Arthur Williams, Lilla Williams, 1921, Micanopy, Florida
· John H. Williams, Jeanie Williams, 1921, Tallahassee, Florida
· Calvin Williams, Grosman Williams, 1922, Wellborn, Florida
The Associated Press contributed to this report