Leader Blues

Friday, June 23, 2006

TOP STORY: Vandals strike cemeteries, school

BY PEG KENYON
Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Vandals toppled gravestones at Bayou Meto Cemetery and damaged property at the nearby Moore's Jacksonville Funeral Home cemetery as well as more damage to Jacksonville High School.

Vandals this week attacked two Jacksonville cemeteries and Jacksonville High School. For the school, this was the second attack in less than two weeks.

At historic Bayou Meto Cemetery, about 200 gravestones were damaged by hooligans, who turned them over randomly throughout the cemetery, particularly in the northeastern section. Flowers and vases were strewn about.

The cemetery dates back to 1845, according to cemetery historian David Brannon.

“A woman comes out here every morning to visit her family’s markers, and she notified the police,” said Vestel Johnson of the Bayou Meto Cemetery board. The police report was filed Friday morning.

“Some of these tall markers weigh 700 pounds. It would take a strong person to knock them over,” Johnson said.

“I don’t know if we’ll have an emergency meeting of the cemetery board or not,” Johnson said. “If you put up a fence all the way around it, you have to have somebody to come open the gate.”

“These white markers, there’s no way to fix that. Nobody makes them anymore,” he added.

“We counted about 200 gravestones damaged that will probably cost about $100 each to repair,” said Brannon, who is also a board member. Upkeep is through donations and volunteer labor.

“We had an eight-plot tract there since my parents worked at the ordnance plant,” said Linda Tucker Ford of Jacksonville. “I’m just hurt more than anything that they would do that,” Ford said, adding it will probably take $2,000 to restore the damaged headstones.

An effort is underway to have the part of the cemetery with graves older than 100 years placed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

The oldest tombstone in the cemetery is dated 1864, although Brannon maintains that there are older graves there, probably from about 1851-1852 near the area by the entrance where the old oak once stood.

At 8:20 a.m. Wednesday, Larry Ward, cemetery manager for Moore’s Funeral Home in Jacksonville, reported an act of vandalism at the mausoleum near the funeral home’s parking lot. A vandal had used a pole as a prying device and broke a piece off the corner section of a large granite block. Large sandstone vases were also damaged during the incident. Damages there were estimated at $4,000.

Vandals struck for the second time in two weeks at Jacksonville High School causing several thousand dollars in damages to school vehicles.

“We seek prosecution and restitution,” said Gerald Tatum, who works security for Pulaski County Special School District.
Near 10 a.m. Tuesday, Shawn Poindexter, a shop teacher at JHS, reported a fence to the vehicle storage yard had been cut. The storage yard is located behind the high school near the shop building.

Vandals smashed all the windows on a 1973 Chevrolet Nova and a Pontiac 6000SE. A 1996 Plymouth Voyager had its windshield broken. Estimated damages to the vehicles were set at $2,300. The fence had about $200 in damage.

School is out, but Tatum said he is not surprised by the acts of vandalism. He said this type of vandalism has previously happened to schools within the district during the summer break.

“You never know in the summertime what kids might be into,” Tatum said.

He declined comment about any possible suspects. “The Jacksonville Police Department is investigating it and as of right now, I can’t say,” Tatum said.

He said surveillance cameras were in use.

On June 17, Jacksonville High School coach Rick Russell reported the chain securing the gate at the football stadium had been cut and a vehicle had driven around on the football field.

Outside the front entrance of the school building, “Go Panthers” had been painted onto the sidewalk and more graffiti was scribbled on exterior walls of an athletic building outside the high school’s football stadium.

Asked if the two incidents could be related, Capt. Charley Jenkins, public information officer for the Jacksonville Police Department, said, “It’s hard to say…sometimes if they (the incidents) come close together, it kind of leads you to believe the same people are involved.”