|Published:||Aug 07, 2013 6:25 PM EDT|
|Updated:||Aug 07, 2013 6:41 PM EDT|
CAPE CORAL, Fla.- A Cape Coral man says he witnessed murder at the hands of school administrators at the now-defunct Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.
Jerry Cooper is one of several former students who say dozens of unaccounted for boys are buried on the school grounds.
On Tuesday, state lawmakers voted to let researchers dig up and try to identify the remains.
A day after the decision, Cooper sat down with WINK News to discuss his experiences at Dozier.
"It felt like that I had entered into a totally new world, that I just didn't think could possibly exist," Cooper said.
A night in 1961 will be forever etched in his memory. That's the night Cooper says he was tied down and attacked.
"Shock alone will kill you. I went into shock. I passed out after about 80, and I was continued to be beaten."
Cooper still as scars on the tops of his legs, a broken foot that has never healed, and emotional wounds that may never either.
"I did fight them, and I'm going to be honest with you, I paid the price," he said.
Cooper isn't the only one to make claims. Former students have accused employees and guards at The Dozier School for Boys of physical and sexual abuse, so severe in some cases it may have led to death. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated, but in 2009 the agency concluded it was unable to substantiate or dispute the claims.
"Ya'll got to understand. This is not a cemetery up there. This is a dumping ground," Cooper said.
Later this month, University of South Florida archaeologists will remove the remains and use DNA to try to identify them and perhaps return them to family members for a proper burial.
Researchers said they have already used historical documents to discover more deaths and gravesites than what the law enforcement agency found.
Researchers said they verified the deaths of two adult staff members and 96 children - ranging in age from 6 to 18 - between 1914 and 1973.
Records indicated 45 people were buried on the 1,400-acre tract from 1914 to 1952 and 31 bodies were sent elsewhere, leaving some bodies with whereabouts unknown.
"I know I'm an old man now. I'm not complaining for myself. I'm complaining for all those children," Cooper said.
Researchers received nearly $200,000 from state legislators to begin their project later this month on the site 60 miles west of Tallahassee.
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