Cemetery vandalism a 'slap in the face of God'

April 20, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - For more than 100 years, gravestones of the founding families of Martinsburg were undisturbed in Old Norborne Cemetery.

But now the unlit and unlocked cemetery on West South Street has become a party ground for youth. Empty cigarette packs lay at the base of tombstones, and liquor bottles and beer cans are strewn among the family plots.

Worse than the trash is the damage the trespassers have done - dozens of headstones are knocked over and broken. Statues have been shattered and stolen.

The Rev. Jack Sutor, pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church, Norborne Parish in Berkeley County, said vandalism has been a consistent problem.


"To profane a cemetery is a slap in the face of God," Sutor said.

Peter Miller, who lives a few houses away from Old Norborne Cemetery, said the problem is getting worse.

"Many of the town's first families are buried here - the Faulkners, the Blackburns, the Nadenbousches," Miller said. "If you saw that cemetery five years ago and now, it's completely different. That cemetery has been devastated."

Just this month, a statue was toppled. The head was found wrapped in newspaper and tied with a shoelace outside the cemetery wall - probably to be picked up later as a trophy, Miller said.

"There's probably more damage done in the last 30 days than in the last 30 years," Miller said.

Another cemetery across the street has also been defaced, despite a wrought-iron fence. It is now locked at night, keeping vandals at bay.

Miller said the lack of adequate lighting draws youth to the Old Norborne Cemetery. They have made escape routes by ripping holes in a fence separating the south side of the cemetery and a bed-and-breakfast.

He has asked the Martinsburg City Council for help in installing lights pointing into the cemetery.

But the property is privately owned by a board of trustees. The church and Martinsburg City Council have no authority there.

Board member William Downs Sites did not return repeated calls about the cemetery.

To combat the damage, Sutor said residents need to call police more often to report any trespassing.

Miller has been trying to keep vandals away on his own. He patrols the cemetery on weekends, from dusk until 5 a.m., hoping to scare them off.

Sometimes it works, but often it doesn't. Just recently, teens threw rocks at him when he came near, he said.

"It's so dark, it draws them here," Miller said. "So many places to hide, so many escape routes."

Detective Kevin Miller of the Martinsburg City Police, said the department has only received one call about two months ago for rowdies in the cemetery.

"They need to call us whenever it's happening or when they know there's damage," he said.

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