At least a dozen headstones, some more than 100 years old, at Greenlawn Cemetery in Franklin were knocked over, causing a wide swath of physical damage and likely to be upsetting for the hundreds of visitors expected this weekend.
The crime is not only troubling to loved ones visiting any of the graves, but creates a safety concern that can’t be easily remedied and an eyesore just as hundreds of volunteers and family members descend on the cemetery to honor the deceased on Memorial Day, cemetery caretaker Larry Bundy said.
Cemetery workers discovered the damage when they arrived on Monday morning. A vandal or vandals struck random gravestones scattered throughout the oldest parts of the cemetery, toppling over towers on top of headstones that weigh hundreds of pounds.
Bundy said this is the worst act of vandalism the cemetery, which borders U.S. 31, Young’s Creek and South Street on the south side of the city, has experienced in years.
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Workers found a towering stone that rises up several feet off a headstone laying in the road.
Two angel statues from 1931 were damaged during vandalism several years ago when someone used a ball bat or similar item and knocked the head off one statue and the wing off the other. This time, one of the angels were toppled, but workers were able to set it back up.
A vandal likely climbed up on a stone from 1891, and repeatedly pushed on the tower that rises out of it until it fell to the ground, Bundy said.
In total, the headstones of at least 12 people were damaged.
“Why people come in here and do this is beyond me,” Bundy said. “It boggles the mind.”
He called the crime personal, in that the vandal or vandals destroyed the very last act — selecting and placing a headstone — that a family does for a loved one who died.
“We take it personal,” Bundy said. “It upsets us.”
The Franklin Police Department is investigating, and asks anyone who may have information about the crime or heard discussion regarding who committed the vandalism to contact police. Specifically, parents should ask their children if they have heard any talk among their friends about the vandalism, and notify police if they have, Franklin police Deputy Chief Chris Tennell said.
“It’s not only a crime, but it is horribly disrespectful to the friends and families of people buried there,” Tennell said.
Cemetery mischief is a crime under Indiana law, and is a felony if it causes more than $2,500 in damages. Suspects could face six months to 2 1/2 years in prison and a fine.
“It’s not appropriate and it’s unacceptable,” Tennell said. “This is troubling.”
Visitors to the cemetery this weekend who are coming to honor a loved one on Memorial Day or help place more than 1,000 flags on veterans’ graves will see the destruction. The damages will remain indefinitely, because the gravestones are owned by the families, not by the city cemetery, meaning the city does not automatically begin making repairs, Bundy said.
Some of the stones that are several feet tall are barely resting on the ledge of the base headstone, posing a safety hazard for any visitors or the grounds crews that have to mow and trim around it, Bundy said. If the stone would fall, it could cause a serious injury, he said.
The age of the headstones is an issue, as some family members may no longer be living or in the area. Some of the markers that were damaged date back to the 1800s.
Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett has asked his staff to research the costs and what it would take to make the repairs, but cannot make any guarantees at this point that the city can do the work.
He is troubled by the damage and said it is not acceptable.
“We don’t want them to be unmarked,” Barnett said of the specific graves, “or our cemetery to be damaged.”
Repairing the stones and resetting them requires a crane truck and a professional company. Some of them weigh up to 1,000 pounds, Bundy said. If the city does not make the repairs and reset the stones, they could lay in the grass indefinitely.
Barnett said that city leaders will decide what, if any, action the city can take to repair the stones after getting estimates.
“The appearance of our cemetery, that means a lot to people,” Barnett said.
If you have any information about the vandalism at Greenlawn Cemetery, or see suspicious behavior in the cemetery at night, contact Franklin police at 317-346-1100.