Families in a small Illinois town are fuming after they say teenagers took flowers, grave markers and other cherished items from their local cemetery.
It happened over the weekend at Mueller Hill Cemetery near Pinckneyville.
Susan Olson visits the cemetery regularly to spend time at her fiancé’s gravesite.
“We usually have flowers that are on top and we have bouquets that are around the bottom, also,” said Olson.
The flowers and a shepherd's hook are missing from the grave.
“It's very heart-wrenching. It makes you very sad to see it,” said Olson.
Cemetery visitor Karen Heape thinks the items are probably mixed in with a pile she found Sunday left near the cemetery's dumpster.
“There's even the little grave markers that aren't supposed to be taken off the graves. There's stuff that was on military graves. They [were] taken,” said Heape.
Items from all across the cemetery were left in and around the dumpster over the weekend. Graves were stripped of precious trinkets. Shepherd's hooks were left with nothing hanging on them but drops of rain.
“It didn't just hurt me. It hurt the whole entire community of Pinckneyville. So many people’s love and affection and mementos are just thrown to the wayside like trash,” said Genevieve Hester, whose family member’s graves were left bare.
It turns out the people of Pinckneyville were right. Teenagers were responsible.
Mueller Cemetery board member Jeff Gilter told 5 On Your Side T&T Lawn Service from Steeleville, Illinois was hired to clean up loose flowers and grave blankets.
T&T's owner, Tim Copple, said he got called away to another job and the handful of teenagers working for him mistakenly took more from the cemetery than they were supposed to. Copple apologized, saying the teens feel terrible about it.
The items were brought back so families could return them to grave sites. But Olson says she still can't find what's hers.
“I looked up there and it's still just hard to tell what's what right now.”
Gilter says the cemetery’s board will hold a special meeting to discuss what more can be done for the people affected by the mistake. Anyone with questions can call 618-318-2599.
Copple told 5 On Your Side he’s happy to help replace anything that was lost or broken. T&T Lawn Service can be reached at 618-317-4440.