Florida mystery: Who's buried at school known for abuse?

Roger Kiser, a member of the "White House Boys", kneels in front of a cross while visiting the small graveyard at the former Florida School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.
Roger Kiser, a member of the "White House Boys", kneels in front of a cross while visiting the small graveyard at the former Florida School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. Emily Michot / Miami Herald / MCT

TALLAHASSEE — Convinced the 32 unmarked graves at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna are the bodies of boys abused and killed decades ago there, four former residents of the school are demanding the governor and state and federal attorneys investigate.

The four men, all of whom suffered from brutal beatings while students at the Marianna-based school for delinquent boys in the late 1950s, sent letters to Gov. Charlie Crist, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney general alleging that the boys were victims of state-sponsored hate crimes and murder.

Their goal, they said, is for ''every last child, Caucasian, Hispanic and African-American who disappeared from the Florida School for Boys [to be] accounted for and, whatever relatives he may have, be given peace at last,'' said Michael O'McCarthy, 66, who resided at the school in 1958-59.

The men learned of the graves six weeks ago when the Department of Juvenile Justice invited five of the men back to the school to dedicate a plaque outside the white cinder-block building where they were beaten, known as the White House, and to close it down forever.

The graves were on what officials used to call ''the colored side'' of the school and the men now believe they remain unmarked ''to hide the nature of those children's deaths,'' O'McCarthy said.

''Given the institution's meticulous records . . . there is no practical reason that the identity of the children buried there was not recorded,'' he said.

O'McCarthy is now project director of the group that now calls itself ''The White House Boys'' and he believes the location of the grave provides reasonable evidence that the victims are African-American male children.

''We are shocked and puzzled . . . that neither the Florida governor's office, the Department of Juvenile Justice nor Florida Department of Law Enforcement have launched an investigation into these remains,'' he said.

Dick Colon, 65, of Baltimore, one of the White House Boys, recalls how he was working in the laundry in the late 1950s with some black boys. Colon went into the restroom and when he came out, the room had been cleared and one black boy was tumbling in the dryer.

''We never saw him again,'' he said. ''I think about it very often. . . . I feel guilty. I could have walked over there and tried to give him some help.'' But he knew, he added, that he would suffer beatings, abuse or worse if he had because they were told they were never to talk to the black boys or they would be subject to corporal punishment.

Roger Kiser, 63, of Brunswick, Ga., believes he witnessed two to three deaths during his stay at the school from 1958 and 1959 and again in 1960. One was a white boy shaking cream to make butter under the dining table, when a school attendant suspected him of masturbating. He was taken away "and never seen again.''

Another time, he saw one of the school staff members order two boys into the tumble dryer. Later, their bodies were hauled away and he and others were ordered to say nothing about it.

They were warned, Kiser said, that if they caught us talking to them ''we would be taken to the White House and beaten. Corporal punishment was the means by which they controlled us,'' he said. "We lived in daily fear.''

The men are also asking for the investigation to include the school's use of the boys for slave labor, sexual abuse, sex trafficking and kidnapping for sexual assault.

Gov. Charlie Crist's spokeswoman said the governor was supportive of an investigation.

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