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Thirty one unmarked graves line a small field hidden from those who attend the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
An investigation of the graves continues after it was brought to light early last December by a group of men who call themselves the White House Boys. Those men were boys when they attended the school, almost fifty years ago, and claim they were victims of mental and physical abuse.
Since Governor Crist gave his initial go ahead to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with this investigation it seems more and more people have felt compelled to come forward and tell their stories. Many former students of the school tell News 13 they were victims of abuse and scare tactics on a daily basis.
According to the men we’ve talked to, if a boy stepped out of line, they were taken to a place on the grounds the boys named the “white house.” It was there where they would be beaten over and over again with a leather strap. Some men say they were beaten so hard that material from the clothes they were wearing would be imbedded into their skin when they left. In some cases, they had to be taken out of the “white house” in a wheel barrel. Two Bay County men who attended the school in 1959 and 1962 say the majority of the beatings were done by a man named Troy Tidwell.
Patrick Hallinan is now 64 years old and lives in Panama City Beach. He was 15 when he attended, what was, the Florida School for Boys. The name of the school later changed. Patrick says Tidwell beat him so hard during his second trip to the “white house” he had to be carried out of the building to the school’s hospital, where he was treated for two days. Patrick says, “I’d like to speak to Mr. Tidwell personally. And I’d like to know how he feels at his age right now that he could beat those boys like that with all the screaming we did. I want to know how he could live with it. I just want 15 minutes to sit and talk with him. Then I’d be a happy boy.”
Cedar Grove resident, George Gay, is now 62 years old. He was also 15 when he attended the school, just two years after Patrick was there. In regards to showing any kind of sympathy towards Troy Tidwell, George says, “His age would be the only thing right now that would make me feel that way towards him… If he was still his age then, I wouldn’t have no mercy on him”
Some former students have come together and actually filed a lawsuit against Troy Tidwell who is presently in his 80’s. The last time News 13 spoke with Tidwell’s lawyer, Matthew Fuqua of Marianna, he told us they’ve filed a motion to dismiss and have requested a venue change from Tampa, where the lawsuit was filed, to Marianna or Tallahassee. He says Tidwell is very upset and distraught about the lawsuit and shocked that those allegations would take place. News 13 tried contacting Mr. Fuqua for a follow up on the suit. However, each time we’ve called, he has either been unavailable or failed to call us back.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says they continue to interview former students and staff members from the school. They’re trying to gather as much information regarding who or what could be buried in those unmarked graves and say they have no immediate plans to start digging at the site.