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April 17, 2017

Police continue to seek leads in cemetery vandalism

Photo/Don Del Rosso
Old Jail Museum Curator Maggie Lovitt and her mother Karen Lovitt, a Fauquier Historical Society Board member, spent several hours Thursday and Friday attempting to identify the gravestones that got damaged. Because many of the memorials remain face-down, they could attach names to only 55.
I can’t imagine why any person or people would find pleasure in doing this. Vandalism. It’s shocking, absolutely shocking.
— Ellen “Dootsie” Wilbur
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The local history buff shook his head in disbelief as he walked among dozens of toppled and smashed headstones in the historic Warrenton Cemetery.

“It’s either terrible boredom on the part of somebody, or they’re terribly hateful people,” George “Dink” Godfrey said Saturday morning. “I don’t know this is the first time that someone’s done this. I think we’ve had it before, but not to this scale.”

A vandal or vandals toppled 94 headstones Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, according to the Warrenton Police Department.

“No leads or suspects at this point,” Police Chief Battle said Monday afternoon. “We’re asking for the public’s input on this one.”

Public school students returned to class Monday after a week-long spring break.

If any took part in the crime, they might discuss it with classmates, which could lead to arrests, Chief Battle said.

“It’s one of the angles we’re looking at,” he said. “We’re asking the SROs (school resource officers) for assistance.”

But, Chief Battle added: “It may or may not be kids.”

Under Virginia law, “willfully or maliciously” destroying, mutilating or defacing a gravestone constitutes a felony. Each count can carry one to five years in jail and up to a $2,500 fine.

Each action that resulted in damaging or overturning a gravestone “conceivably” could be treated as a felony count, Chief Battle said.

Working with the commonwealth’s attorney office, “we will push this to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

> Video at bottom of story

A Realtor and lifelong Warrenton resident, Mr. Godfrey thinks punishment of the culprit or culprits also should require they help maintain the cemetery.

“If they’re that bored and they’re caught, we should make sure for the next five or six years they don’t have to worry about boredom,” he said. “We’ll give them plenty to do right here.

“If the judge has any compassion for the people and he has the capability through the law, they should be pulling weeds in here in the summer and moving limbs in the winter, when we have trouble with storms. They will be on the maintenance department for the destruction they’ve put forth here.”

While many of his closest family members lie in the cemetery, none of their gravestones got damaged, Mr. Godfrey said.

Ellen “Dootsie” Wilbur also visited to the cemetery Saturday morning to check the condition of family gravesites.

“Everything’s OK there, because they’re all flat markers,” Mrs. Wilbur said. “So my family’s fine.”

Still, the toppled gravestones — many of them cracked or shattered — appalled her.

“I can’t imagine why any person or people would find pleasure in doing this,” said Mrs. Wilbur, who lives in Warrenton. “Vandalism. It’s shocking, absolutely shocking.”

Old Jail Museum Curator Maggie Lovitt and her mother Karen Lovitt, a Fauquier Historical Society Board member, spent several hours Thursday and Friday attempting to identify the gravestones that got damaged.

Of the 94 damaged gravestones inspected, they have identified 55 by name because they laid face up on the ground.

Maggie Lovitt remains less certain about names of the other damaged markers, “because they were face down.”

“It’s shocking,” Ms. Lovitt said of the destruction.

But, the vandalism also “raises awareness” about the cemetery and the care and attention required to properly maintain it on an ongoing basis, the museum curator said.

“My hope is to put the Warrenton Cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places,” said Ms. Lovitt, who called it “one of our most important assets.”

Posted on the historical society’s Facebook page, her list will be used to inform those with family members buried that such gravestones had been damaged.

The historical society last Thursday started a Facebook fundraiser to collect $50,000 for the repair the affected gravestones.

As of Monday, the society had received $1,760 through Facebook and in-person donations at Warrenton’s Old Jail Museum, museum Director Elizabeth Ryan said.

The museum also has received $410 in checks made out to the Town of Warrenton.

The historical society will give all donations to the town to hire a company that repairs memorials.

“We don’t know how much it will cost” for such work, Ms. Ryan said.

WJLA-TV Channel 7 report on Warrenton Cemetery vandalism:

Fauquier Historial Society inventory of vandalized gravestones in Warrenton Cemetery:

Warrenton Cemetery Post-Vandalism Indentification by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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Conditd · April 20, 2017 at 11:10 am
First, I believe a group of high school students photographed most of the headstones a few years ago with gps coordinates so identifying the headstones should be easier. Secondly, why can not a group of volunteers help set the stones right? Thirdly, $50,000.00 to redo 94 headstones is way over the mark, that is over $500 per headstone!
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