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Editorial - Act now on cemetery

April 22, 1998

For the relatives of those who've died, the final resting place of their loved ones is sacred ground, meant for quiet reflection, prayer and memories. But for a group of young people in Martinsburg, W.Va., the Old Norborne Cemetery is a place where they can drink, party and tip over tombstones, their mindless deeds concealed by darkness. We urge police to round up this crew and make an example of them.

To those who might argue that police have more important things to do, we say this: Recent research has shown that in areas where law-enforcement officials ignore the small things, perpetrators are emboldened to do worse. However, when police begin to enforce laws against minor infractions like public drinking, the number of major crimes falls, too.

If Martinsburg police want a preview of what will happen if they ignore this situation, they need look no further than the old Jacobs Church cemetery near Leitersburg, Md.

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The cemetery, which dates from 1791, served one of Washington County's first Lutheran congregations, and at one time, until 25 or 30 years ago, contained 160 tombstones.

Then the cemetery became a gathering place for rowdy youth, who destroyed a small church on the site and many of the tombstones. County officials periodically decried the damage, but their words weren't backed up by deeds until last year, when guard rails were erected to keep people from parking on the property.

That action came 25 years too late, a neighbor said, and the historic property is a shambles. Without action, the same thing could happen in Martinsburg.

We suggest that police determine when the greatest number of people gather at the Old Norborne Cemetery, call on other police agencies for help and make mass arrests. Perhaps if these young people (or their parents) have to post bail and go to court for trespassing, they'll find another place to party.

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