Residents furious after cemetery cleared out

Posted at 4:07 PM, Mar 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-22 18:32:58-04

A lot of people in Fort Meade are fired up after grave site memorials at a local cemetery were ripped from the ground.  It's all because of a change in city code.

Bin after bin of flowers, stuffed animals, and statues line the Fort Meade city barn.  All the items were put there after the city yanked them out of the ground at Evergreen Cemetery.

"This is people's heart poured out to their loved ones," said Kimberly Booz.

Booz is still grieving the loss of her 16-month-old son Cliff, who died in a tragic accidental drowning last year.  His grave site used to have a small fence, flowers, and a toy windmill.  Now, it's a mud patch and bare headstone.

"It looks like a mother buried her child and did not care, did not care about him.  And I care.  I care about him so much," Booz said.

The city says it's enforcing a new ordinance, which was passed in December after being discussed at three meetings, and enacted March 1.  It says the ordinance was created after complaints about clutter at the cemetery, and difficulties maintaining the property as a result.  It now bans enclosures around burial sites, and bans things like statutes and flowers from sitting on the ground if the city deems them "unsightly."  Flowers placed after a burial are supposed to be removed after one week.

People in the community say they can understand why the city would want to get rid of dead plants, but they can't understand why they'd get rid of brand new arrangements and personal family mementos placed at their loved one's graves.

Jim Schaill is furious his dad's American Legion service medal was pulled from the ground and a gator statue cemented to the headstone ripped off, causing $300 in damage.

"I love this town.  I was born and raised here.  I'm a 5th generation Fort Meadian...I support the city here.  But this is wrong," Schaill said.

Most residents say they had little or no warning this was coming.  The city put notices in power bills of residents, but a lot of people with family buried in the cemetery live out of town.  Signs on the new rules were only posted after the city cleared the cemetery out.  The mayor admits he has concerns about how the new rule was enforced and wants to hear from everyone affected.

"I encourage anybody to come see me, any of the commissioners, talk to the city manger, and by all means come to our next meeting.  And if need be, we will adjust this ordinance and see if it needs to be modified," said Fort Meade Mayor Jim Watts.

For now, families will continue digging through the piles of their memorials, hoping to find anything they can salvage.

As of now, the city says families can continue to look for their personal items at the city barn, 521 NW 4th Street in Fort Meade, on weekdays through April 5.