12/07/11 — Juveniles charged in vandalism at cemetery

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Juveniles charged in vandalism at cemetery

By Gary Popp
Published in News on December 7, 2011 1:46 PM

Three juveniles have been charged by the Wayne County Sheriff's Office with doing $100,000 worth of damage to a church cemetery.

More than 100 tombstones and grave plots were found vandalized at Providence United Methodist Church in southern Wayne County Nov. 11.

On Monday, authorities charged three boys, ages 11, 13 and 14, with 83 counts of disturbing a grave, breaking and entering and larceny.

A date for their appearance in juvenile court has not been set, investigators said.

Dozens of tombstones were broken and knocked over. Investigators said they think a baseball bat was used at times to destroy the headstones. Also damaged were concrete pieces in the cemetery's columbarium.

The juveniles also were charged with breaking into an outbuilding where the Boy Scout troop sponsored by the church stored equipment. Much of the equipment was damaged as well. A camping tent was stolen but later recovered.

The church's pastor, the Rev. Terry Hobbs, said she and others in the congregation were taken aback when they discovered the vandalism.

But as the initial wave of shock faded, the church members quickly turned their focus to forgiveness, she said. The damage was discovered when a youth group assembled at the church for a weekend retreat. Those in attendance spent much of their time that weekend contemplating the Bible's emphasis on forgiveness, she said.

"We prayed for the people who did this even before we knew who did it," Mrs. Hobbs said. "There has been a lot of prayer."

Mrs. Hobbs said she and others in the church are driven to bring understanding to the young suspects more than justice to themselves.

"I would like for them to walk away from this experience with changed hearts and an acknowledgment of God's love," Mrs. Hobbs said.

After the retreat, Mrs. Hobbs said she has tried to show the suspected vandals that the church is capable of compassion by agreeing to meet with them.

She said she has prayed with one of the boys and his family who reached out to the church and that she has plans to meet with another of the young men. She said there has been no contact with the third child or his family.

The pastor emphasized that the church wants to serve as a positive source for the accused young men.

"We have been concerned about making sure they understand God's love," she said. "We want to show them a community of God responds in a loving way."

Mrs. Hobbs said members of the church have worked together to clean up some of the damage.

She said the church is also in the process of making contact with the relatives of those whose tombstones were vandalized.

"We are doing what we can to make it easy on the families," she said.

Mrs. Hobbs said some of the damaged tombstones date back to the early 1900s.

District Attorney Branny Vickory said the case is unique in that there are a high number of victims, many of whom are hard to identify, and the accused are juveniles.

"In a situation like this, it is hard to determine all the victims," Vickory said. "It creates a great deal of difficulty."

While an initial report by the Sheriff's Office shows damages at $107,000, Vickory said juvenile court has strict restrictions on collecting restitution from juveniles.

"I am aware of a $500 limit per juvenile in previous issues," Vickory said. "This opens up all kinds of questions."

Declining to comment on Providence United Methodist Church incident directly, Vickory said is it also possible for the juveniles' parents to be liable in civil court.