North Texas Daily

Health center scientists help identify skeletal remains

Health center scientists help identify skeletal remains

Health center scientists help identify skeletal remains
October 22
09:10 2013

Javier Navarro / Staff Writer

The Center for Human Identification at the UNT Health and Science Center in Fort Worth is working to identify the skeletal remains of boys who died at a former reform school in Florida.

The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys was a reform school for juvenile delinquents, which operated in Marianna, Fla., from 1900 to 2011.

The school had a history of abuse, and was known for staff beating the students over the years.

Dr. Arthur Eisenberg, co-director of the Center for Human Identification, and his team are working with anthropologists from the University of South Florida to identify the remains and figure out exactly what happened to the boys.

“For a significant period of time, boys would disappear and the school administration sort of blew it off like there was nothing to worry about,” Eisenberg said. “Now it’s believed that somehow they were killed and buried in the grounds.”

According to the USF website, school records show that 84 boys died at the school between 1911 and 1973.

The USF anthropology team received permission to access the land and received a $420,000 grant from The Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice in August.

USF’s team contacted the Center for Human Identification to help identify the remains once it digs them up. The USF team started to dig at the site at the beginning of September.

Eisenberg said the center has been involved in many high-profile criminal cases in the past where they identified remains of victims of convicted murderers such as John Wayne Gacy, who killed more than 30 teenagers and young men in the 1970s. He also said this is part of the reason why the USF team contacted the center.

“We have identified more remains than any organization, I think,” Eisenberg said. “We started off work by doing it for the state of Texas. In 2001, the Texas legislature funded and made us the Texas missing persons database. In 2004, we had done that service across the country.”

Eisenberg said when they do receive the remains, he and his team will start the DNA testing, where they will get the DNA that is left from the bones and compare them to samples from close relatives of the boys. The process can take months or years to identify someone.

Melody Josserand, UNTHSC combined DNA index system administrator, said once the remains and family samples have been analyzed, they are entered into a computer database where the software tries to find a match.

“That is where we are able to compare large numbers of DNA profiles against each other quickly,” Josserand said. “If they do not match anything here, then they are uploaded into the state and national [DNA database], where they are compared to other DNA profiles across the country, and any matches will be reported back to us here.”

Josserand also said this process itself can take about 60 days.

Dixie Peters, UNTHSC missing-persons unit technical leader, said tracking down living relatives that can give DNA samples is one of the reasons why it can take a long time to identify remains.

“Having a mother and a father to be utilized for comparisons to remains is great, but if those family members aren’t available then we have to reach further,” Peters said. “Half-siblings, or some cousins, nieces and nephews – those aren’t going to be as useful.”

Eisenberg said he works in this field to give closure to families of the victims.

“First and foremost, we want to provide families with answers,” Eisenberg said.

Eisenberg said they have not yet received the remains and that they could arrive later this year.

The trauma and possible causes of death from the bones at the Dozier site are not yet known.

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