06/04/06 — Families upset over removal of personal items from cemetery

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Families upset over removal of personal items from cemetery

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 4, 2006 2:04 AM

Terry Hampton was visibly upset Thursday morning, having just visited the cemetery where her mother has been buried since 1999.

She said she always felt kindness and compassion from those who sold her the plot at Wayne Memorial Park.

New owners apparently came in, though, she said, and recently removed everything but basic markers on each gravesite.

Ms. Hampton said she found a virtual field of angels when she was led to an obscure part of the park off U.S. 117. There were also an assortment of baby mementos, pictures of children, flags in the dirt.

"It's a horrific scene," she remarked.

Not to mention that "you don't just take a bunch of American flags right after Memorial Day and put them in the back," she added.

Finding all the trinkets given in memory of loved ones was very upsetting, she said.

It was especially heartbreaking to see the tributes made on behalf of children -- a plaque with the names of a set of twins weighing 1.6 ounces and 1.4 ounces, pictures of babies, gifts of toys for lost youths, she said.

"These were little tiny things that weren't causing anybody any problem at all," she said.

Her first emotion, she said, "was that I felt very violated as a patron of that cemetery. It's supposed to be one of the nicest cemeteries."

She said she doubts others with family or friends buried there realize this has happened. And she is afraid that some might not discover the change until it is too late.

"Many will find out only once the items are permanently discarded," she said. "A lot of people, I think, will be very shocked to see what has happened."

Ms. Hampton said that according to the purchasing contract, statues and other memorabilia are not allowed. For years, however, that policy has not been adhered to nor enforced, she said.

"My mother died in 1999 and we have had the angel down there ever since that time and it's never bothered anybody," she said. "Even if they had that rule, after a certain number of years, (they) can't exactly start enforcing it without notifying people that you're going to enforce it. Was it something that they had a right to do? Maybe. But it was something that a lot of people didn't even know about before it happened."

And now that it has happened, "They don't have a sign pointing to an area where you can collect your things," she said, noting that the items have all been piled "back where the trash is collected."

Ms. Hampton said she was told that announcements had been placed in the newspaper that such action would take place.

"I read the newspaper every day. I never saw it," she said.

Bob Forsythe of Goldsboro has no relatives buried at Wayne Memorial Park, but as an Air Force veteran he says he has a vested interest any time respect is not shown to the American flag.

He said he was headed to the Center Street Jam downtown Thursday evening when he learned about the cemetery and diverted his trip from the northern side of the county to investigate for himself.

He wound up "picking American flags up out of the dirt where they have been thrown along with crosses, statues and other items removed from graves," he said.

Outraged and yet sad, he said there was no way he could leave a flag lying on the ground.

"It just tore me up. I was actually crying," he said. "I spent 30 years in the Air Force and lost some dear friends."

While at the cemetery, he said he encountered several others, also claiming belongings. When someone asked if he was all right, Forsythe said he was so emotional he was unable to answer.

To properly dispose of the discarded flags, he said he retrieved about a half dozen that he found and took them home with him.

"There is no excuse for desecrating our flag like that. If the people who ordered this, condoned this and failed to correct it after they knew about it, and have no respect for our flag and what it stands for, how can we expect them to have any respect for our dead?" he said.

Regardless of what might be in the park's contract, Forsythe said there has to be an element of respect.

"Take the flags up and store them, take these people's personal effects and store them; don't just throw them in the woods like they're nothing," he said. "I would think they would have some type of respect for those buried out there.

"I can promise you one thing - my remains will not go in that park."

Repeated calls to Doug Coleman, one of the new park owners, and Stonemore Partners in Pennsylvania, were not returned.