COVINGTON -- In less than a week the cemetery vandals have struck again, according to the Newton County Sheriff's Office. The total is now up to 126 vases, or approximately $35,000 worth of bronze, that have been stolen since mid-January from Lawnwood Cemetery at 1111 Access Road.
"We're working with a supplier to make sure we can replace the vases that have been stolen as quickly as possible," said Adam Cooper, who is with the cemetery. "It just makes me sick to hear we've been hit again. In the 57 years we've been here, we've made it our goal to take care of these families and their deceased. It makes me sick for the families and sick that there's somebody out there doing this."
Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown said law enforcement is aggressively seeking the individuals responsible for these thefts.
"We're doing all we can do," he said, adding that they are checking with recyclers both locally and in metro Atlanta to see if it can be determined who is buying the stolen bronze.
"The thieves are to blame, but the people who are buying the stolen merchandise are as much to blame because if these people couldn't sell it, they wouldn't be stealing it," Cooper said.
Cooper said he's not heard of any other cemeteries suffering the same kinds of losses right now and doesn't understand why Lawnwood has been targeted.
"Maybe some of these side roads offer them some seclusion to hide in while they're stealing, or we might find they live nearby and it's just convenient for them," he said. "Our first inclination is to believe they're parking somewhere nearby and walking in and carrying the vases out, but we're not exactly sure what their path would be. They tend to leave two or three (vases) by the side of the road. I guess that's just to let us know they've been here."
Cooper said the cemetery's insurance company has deemed that each individual marker with vase is individually owned and, therefore, won't pay for replacement. Also, the Georgia Secretary of State's Office has found that the funds cannot be pulled from those set aside for perpetual care. That leaves replacement up to the individual families who own the graves.
"Due to the economic situation right now, we're not going to be able to replace them free of charge, but we've gotten it down to $50 each, which is a tremendous savings for the family. And they can get a vase back on their marker. The $50 plus tax pretty much covers our cost," he said. "We've got an order placed."
Anyone with information on these thefts is asked to call the NCSO at 678-625-1400. Tips can be given to the NCSO anonymously at 678-625-5007 or through their Web site at www.newtonsheriffga.org and clicking on "anonymous tips." Those who want a response from NCSO personnel should leave contact information.