The first time that Jerry Cooper was beaten at the famous Florida School for Boys, he was thrown on a bed, tied and whipped so hard that his body was raised a foot and a half every time the thong of leather came in contact.
A boy who was awake in a nearby room heard the violent and horrible ordeal, counting 135 lashes.
"And every time this strap fell, you could hear the beat on the concrete because their shoes would slip," said Cooper, 74, in an interview he made in October 2012. "And you could hear shoosh, shoosh, bam. "
Cooper, who was 16 at the time, lost consciousness and almost died. It was in 1961.
Cooper's history of violent beatings at school has become commonplace among survivors who have emerged in recent years, adding valuable clues to state investigators battling the recent shocking discovery. and scary of anonymous graves on the vast 1,400-acre lot.
On Wednesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis acknowledged the discovery of 27 unreported potential burials, which adds up to the 55 confirmed discoveries during a 2012 survey. The most recent burials were discovered. by a contractor conducting a field survey prior to the pollution cleanup. just under 2 acres of land at school. The contractor, using radar equipment entering the ground, reported "27 anomalies" corresponding to the depth and shape of the graves.
Cooper was sent to school after being caught stealing a car. Other children have also been charged with crimes, but some simply do not have any other place to go, he said.
"Many orphans were there and sometimes had no place and they were sent to Marianna," Cooper told NPR. "They were not there for any crime, but we had many, many boys who were there to smoke at school, who were incorrigible. We were not bad kids. We might need help in some ways. But that was not the place to find it, I'll tell you right away.
The school has earned a reputation for raping, torturing and murdering young boys who were forced to live there, according to statements from a group of survivors known as "White." House Boys ", a name taken from the small building in cinderblock. where thousands of beatings took place. The number of men who have come out publicly is now above 400.
The White House Boys began telling their stories in the early 2000s, which was extensively documented in a detailed survey conducted in 2009 by the St. Petersburg Times. Survivors corroborated the existence of separate whippings rooms in which the guards used a leather and metal belt to punish the boys. The sentences were so severe that boys' undergarments would be entangled with their skin. One person said he saw a boy trapped in a tumble dryer and thought he killed him.
Others claim that there was a "rape room" at the school where they were sexually assaulted by guards. Some of the children were as little as 9 years old, according to witness testimony in the investigation.
An investigation of the forces of the order was opened before the numerous reports of the St. Petersburg Times, revealing no concrete evidence of a link between the deaths and the actions of the personnel who worked there. No graves were opened during the investigation, but the police noted in a report that 31 pits had been dug between 1914 and 1952.
"Some reports from past students stated that in addition to corporal punishment, they had also been victims of sexual abuse by former staff members or other students." , said an official 2010 report that had investigated the spanking. "In the past fifty years, no tangible physical evidence has been found to support or refute allegations of physical or sexual abuse."
In March 2010, the Florida attorney said that no charges would be filed, citing lack of evidence.
The school was closed in 2011 after an immense pressure exerted on the Tallahassee legislature, located an hour east of Marianna, the city where the school was located since it opened in 1900.
Remains of 51 boys were found among the first 55 graves found, according to studies by a team of anthropologists from the University of South Florida. The USF team has been present on the site intermittently since 2012, but it is only recently that it has gained full access to the entire property.
The USF team works largely at Boot Hill Cemetery, designated an African-American cemetery at the time of the segregation. Segregation ended at school in 1966.
The remains of the first boys discovered in 2012, mainly consisting of bone, teeth and artifacts, were subjected to DNA testing, allowing researchers to make seven precise matches and 14 other identifications presumptive.
These remains were returned to families as much as possible, but most were reinvested.
The number of official deaths at school seems to be disputed due to incomplete documentation. The bodies of those who have been officially registered have not all been found in the school cemetery, while some of those found in unmarked graves are not noted in the documentation, according to investigators. For example, a boy named George Owen, missing in 1940, was found in the first batch of anonymous graves.
Many school children would have died in less sinister circumstances. Eight boys died in a fire in 1914, while others died of flu and pneumonia. Some runaways were also shot.
Governor DeSantis asked state officials to work closely with anthropologists to determine whether the anomalies were actually unmarked graves. If that happens true, all the remains will also be subject to DNA testing and identification.
Jackson County eventually plans to use the land to build a manufacturing and distribution center, as well as a training center for people with autism. The Florida cabinet voted on the proposal in December.