Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

October 30, 2012

Vandals damage cemetery

Headstones, statues are pushed over

TRAVERSE CITY — Branden Morgan shook his head in disgust as he looked at a toppled headstone in Traverse City's historic Oakwood Cemetery.

Morgan has deep, lifelong ties to the sprawling cemetery on the city's east side. His grandparents and several other relatives are buried there. As a teen, his first job was at the cemetery, and he's now been Oakwood's head groundskeeper and manager for about 15 years.

Morgan was greatly upset to discover that vandals smashed or toppled dozens of headstones, monuments, flower pots and statues sometime Saturday night. Damages could cost thousands to repair.

"You feel violated. I'm angry about it. It's senseless," he said. "Is this fun? Is this how you get your kicks, knocking dead people's stuff over?"

Morgan said the damage is the most he can remember in his years at the cemetery. Vandals knocked over headstones new and old, and focused much of their wrath on obelisk-shaped monuments. Many just need to be lifted and put back into place — no small task considering the immense weight in some cases — but others broke into several pieces.

"Some of this stuff, you can't fix," Morgan said as he looked at an intricate 19th century marker. "You would have to try to replace it, but you just can't."

Police believe there were multiple culprits, considering the scope of the damage. It was spread across the entire cemetery and involved several heavy headstones that may have required more than one person to topple.

"These have got to be some pretty strong fellows," Morgan said. "These aren't little kids."

Morgan and co-workers will right as many stones as possible. The cemetery's insurance doesn't cover vandalism, he said, though relatives of those with damaged headstones might have policies that cover the damage.

Morgan hopes the vandals are found.

"I'd love to see them get caught so they can be held responsible and accountable," he said.

Evidence is hard to come by in such situations, city police Capt. Brian Heffner said, so tips would be appreciated.

"Hopefully, someone from the public knows something about this incident," he said. "In cases like this, we rely an awful lot on the public stepping forward."

Anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to contact the Traverse City Police Department at (231) 995-5152 or report information anonymously at (231) 947-TIPS.

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