Many call it a dark chapter in Florida history. Those who attended the former Dozier School for Boys say the real truth is just now being uncovered...found in unmarked graves. Witnesses tell us they saw administrators beat boys severely, and then, afterward, they never saw those boys again.
Tonight (last night), there's a state push to bring closure for families and victims, but that push also raises questions for those who graduated from that same school. A petition signed today by State Attorney General Pam Bondi could be the ticket that will dig deeper into the place of unmarked graves.
After years of silence, one survivor, who now lives in Lee County, is sharing only with us what he witnessed.
More than 50 years later, Jerry Cooper recalls his first steps onto the grounds of what was then called the Florida Schools for Boys. "It looked very clean; it looked like everything was orderly. This looked like a place you could stay awhile," Cooper said. At just 15 years old, the reality immediately hit. "Within three days you knew better," Cooper said.
Cooper is one of the surviving members of a group of men called the "White House Boys."
The men take their name in part from the school's most horrifying feature--a white building where they were abused by those who were supposed to be helping them.
"That first strike, when it came, down it lifted me off that bed a foot and there's no springs on there I mean it lifted me up there a foot and I thought, 'My God this can't be happening,'" Cooper said.
For years, Cooper ignored the abuse. Today he's one of more than 300 men who spent years at what they call the "White House." "I was really bleeding there was blood on the floor, I was covered in blood," Cooper said.
Cooper took the repeated beatings, the brutality, but he says others couldn't. In recent years, Southern Florida researchers found what he had finally spoken about. They discovered dozens of unmarked graves, those who died in the care of the Florida School for Boys.
"It's just an impossibility, with that many years of beatings, that some of those kids made it out of that White House," Cooper said.
Tonight, the main focus is the state's Boot Hill Cemetery, that's where researchers found the unmarked graves of young boys--quite possibly the bodies of those never reported dead.
The state's attorney general wants the remains exhumed.
"There is a cloud of mystery surrounding what happened at that school and these families need closure," Bondi said.
Reflecting, Cooper says he turned a blind eye. He hopes the state and others will make things right for his classmates who are dead...and those who are alive.
"I want a formal apology from the state and governor for every boy that was taken in that room," he said.
Article by George Solis www.nbc-2.com 3/12/13