TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Police are investigating after suspected vandals damaged numerous tombs at a historic cemetery.
Tampa PD says that the suspect or suspects entered the Centro Espanol de Tampa cemetery, located at 2502 East 21st Avenue, sometime within the last two or three days.
The vandals apparently used a heavy object - possibly a sledgehammer - to damage 18 tombs and statues, according to police.
TOMBS DESTROYED: family members are heartbroken to see tombs at historic Centro Espaol de Tampa cemetery vandalized. Cemetery has been here since 1904. Police think vandals possibly used sledgehammer. @abcactionnews pic.twitter.com/k2sAbWDLXy
— Ryan Smith (@RyanReports) July 18, 2018
The cemetery, which was established in 1904, has approximately 1,600 graves.
"It's unfathomable that someone would do this," said John Ranon. "They desecrated a sacred and historic place and shame on them for doing that."
Ranon, president of Centro Espanol de Tampa, INC., says the historic cemetery is the final resting place for his parents and both sets of grandparents.
"They're both immigrants from Spain. They arrived with their immediate families in the early 1930's."
He says the cemetery is believed to be only one of two in the country dedicated to immigrants from Spain.
The club was recently awarded $85,000 for improvements from Hillsborough County. They plan to match that amount and say some of that money may now go to securing the property.
Neighbors in the area tell ABC Action News, they plan to put up surveillance cameras to help keep watch.
"Ideally, we'd like this to be a kind of a public space, you know, and keep it open and part of the community and a place that people can come and see the history that I think belongs to all of us," said Brian Howell, with Centro Espanol de Tampa, INC.
But cemetery caretakers say that might not happen and are now considering locking up the property after hours.
Detectives are working to develop leads in the case. Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers.