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Police investigating disturbed Native American remains at USF Forest Preserve

The Florida Indigenous Alliance said on Tuesday that the USF Forest Preserve, which houses an indigenous cemetery, has been looted.
Credit: Florida Indigenous Alliance

TAMPA, Fla. — The University of South Florida police department said Tuesday it is investigating the possibility of disturbed Native American remains at its forest preserve in Tampa near Fletcher Avenue, a 500-acre wetland and sandhill habitat.

The Florida Indigenous Alliance said on Tuesday the USF forest preserve houses an indigenous cemetery that has been looted. The group says public knowledge of the university’s plan to redevelop the property may have encouraged disturbance.

FIA says grave robbing and looting became apparent in May after students and faculty recovered shovels, rakes, sifting screens and camping gear from the area.

USFPD said in a statement Tuesday it immediately responded to the area and continues its investigation of what might have happened. The statement also said the site has been vandalized in the past.

The investigation is ongoing, and police are looking for any information that will help them solve the case. Police say they are working with state and local agencies to figure out how much damage has occurred.

RELATED: Descendants of historic African American cemetery hope to save endangered burial ground

FIA would like USF to post signs around the preserve that prohibit trespassing and alert visitors that state law prohibits the disturbance of human burials, according to state statute 872.05. FIA also says the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act gives additional protection to indigenous cemeteries.

USFPD said it is aware of these requests from FIA and is working with university leaders to determine the next steps.

Emerald Morrow is a reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10TampaBay.com. To read more about the search for lost African American burial grounds in the Tampa Bay area, head to wtsp.com/erased.

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