Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 17, 2013

Cemetery manager: ‘You’ve got to be a bold person to steal from God’

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Thieves seeking metal they could sell for scrap or pawn are often brazen, but their disregard for others drops to a new low when they desecrate local graves.

Copper and other metals have been stolen from coal mining sites, businesses, and even from churches, but thieves periodically turn to cemeteries. Metallic flower vases and even the bronze letters off a mausoleum have been stolen in the past. Cemeteries in both West Virginia and Virginia experience thefts from time to time.

“It’s sporadic,” said general manager John Attilli of Roselawn Funeral Home and Cemetery along Courthouse Road near Princeton. “I think I’ve filed two police reports in the last two years. Two years ago, 180 vases were taken and this past year we’ve had 62 that we know of that are gone.”

Three individuals were arrested after the 180 bronze flower vases were stolen.

“That’s the worst,” Lt. Joe Parks of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department said of such incidents. “That was huge. We caught three people, sure enough.”

The vases were recovered, but many of them had been beaten out of shape with a sledgehammer in an attempt to disguise them, Parks said.

No recent thefts of vases or another metal items from cemeteries had been reported to the sheriff’s department, Parks said. He added that scrap yards and pawn shops were not to blame for the problem. Many of the individuals who steal metal are seeking money to feed their drug addictions.

“The problem is drugs,” he said. “That’s the common denominator across the board for this sort of thing.”

Thieves do not focus only on vases when they steal from a cemetery. At Woodlawn Memorial Park along Route 52 in Bluewell, bronze letters were taken off a mausoleum six months ago, said manager Lisa Bowman. Vases have been stolen in the past.

When any metal such as a grave marker has to be replaced, it is not simply thrown away, Bowman said. Scrap yards accept such items only if a family gives permission; this must be on a letter with the cemetery or funeral home’s letterhead.

At Resthaven Memorial Park near Princeton, vases are stolen periodically.

“Some people don’t have any regard for the deceased or the fact that it’s hallowed ground,” said the Rev. James Mitchell Sr., Resthaven’s manager. “You’ve got to be a bold person to steal from God.”

The enemy, also known as the devil, uses the thieves to deface God’s world, Mitchell said.

“The greatest illusion is making people think that he (the devil) does not exist and that they will not be held accountable,” he concluded.