In the late-night or early-morning hours of Wednesday, Sept. 5, vandals knocked over approximately 136 tombstones at the Highland Cemetery off Vineyard Avenue. Not only did the vandals desecrate the gravesites, but they also broke American flags that were put next to the gravestones on Memorial Day.
Highland Police chief Daniel Waage, who was collecting evidence along with his department at the site, believes that “more than one individual is responsible, due to the amount of damage done and the weight of some of those tombstones. There was one that weighed close to a ton.”
Supervisor Paul Hansut was one of the first notified of the desecration and discovered that one of the tombstones that was knocked over was that of his father-in-law, Danny Alfonso, a longtime county legislator. Hansut himself is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who has information that would lead to the arrest and prosecution of the offender or offenders. “It’s very disheartening that someone would commit this type of desecration in our community,” said Hansut.
Roger Gardiner gives his life to taking care of the Cemetery, of which he is the director. “There is a board that works very hard to ensure that it was managed and protected. Let’s just say I’m not a happy camper right now and we are reaching out to the media to help us spread the word and encourage anyone with any information to come forward.”
As for a motive, Chief Waage said, “Even if we catch those responsible for this crime, I don’t know what we would have as a motive. Whoever did this committed crimes against those that are dead and defenseless, not to mention their loved ones.”
Hansut noted that this “is a very active cemetery where families gather to remember and care for their loved ones’ gravesites, planting flowers, having a picnic…This is a very patriotic town, with many active and former military men and women. To have someone intentionally break American flags — that is so disrespectful.”
The damage is estimated at approximately $30,000. Hansut said that within the next week or so the cemetery staff would be “getting some heavy equipment out there to right the stones, many of which are granite.”
Highland families rushed to the cemetery, as the word got out that tombstones had been knocked over and gravesites vandalized. It looks like a severe storm had blown through the center of the cemetery with broken flags, tombstones knocked over like dominoes, statues of the Virgin Mary and cherubs broken and recently laid flowers thrown to the wayside.
“It’s unbelievable that someone would do something so destructive to a graveyard. I can’t wrap my mind around it,” said Elaine Harney, one of many residents in the cemetery checking on their family members’ tombstones. “Our gravestone was not touched, but I have many relatives up there whose tombstones were knocked over,” she said, pointing up the hill.
Another woman came to ensure that her grandson’s tombstone was not harmed. “We just buried him recently. He died when he was two months old. Today is also my daughter and my son-in-law’s second anniversary. I think they’ve been through enough, so I’m grateful that his gravestone was not harmed, but feel terrible for everyone who had a family member’s gravesite vandalized. It’s just atrocious.”
Anyone with any information is strongly encouraged to call the Highland Police Department at 691-6102.