Residents upset about cemetery’s weekend sweep

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Debbie Green pulls a teddy bear figurine from a trash bin at Lawn Haven Memorial Gardens Saturday. Green and other families are upset because they said management threw away grave ornaments without telling them.

Sharna Johnson

Some area residents are upset with a local cemetery, whose operators say they were trying to improve appearances when grave ornaments were thrown away over the weekend.

Saturday, Candice Spell said her family discovered items she placed on her family member’s graves at Lawn Haven Memorial Gardens were gone.

After looking around, Spell said she realized all graves in the section where her daughter is buried were picked clean and items had been thrown in a Dumpster at the back of the cemetery.

Inside the overflowing trash bin, she said she found flags, flowers, solar-powered lights, toys and figurines, crosses, framed photos and more.

“(Personnel are) just told to clean up the flowers and clean up the grounds because a lot of times it does get unsightly,” said Rodney Muffley, superintendent for Clovis Cemeteries Llc.

Muffley said it has always been the company’s policy that unsightly items are discarded.

“In that situation (Saturday), I don’t know what all transpired but most of the keepsakes we keep. They (customers) are told there are cemetery regulations about flowers,” he said. “If they’re unsightly they will be discarded … there are things that get broken out there and if they get broken, yes, we will pick them up and throw them away. If the wind blows (something) we have no idea which grave it came from, so we’ll pick stuff up and throw it away.”

When maintenance personnel find keepsakes like figurines or children’s items, he said they keep them in the office for family members to claim.

Saturday afternoon, Spell and members of about five other families were digging through the trash container looking for items they had purchased.

Spell said her family has spent thousands of dollars maintaining her daughter’s and two other family member’s gravesides over recent years.

She said she was given permission by cemetery staff to place a bench near the graves, plant a tree and install solar lights on either side of her daughter’s marker, so she said she was shocked to find even the lights had been removed and thrown away.

Sifting through the trash container looking for items she purchased, Debbie Green lifted out a tennis ball with writing on it.

“We love you Grandson, Merry Christmas,” she read from the ball. “Doesn’t that just break your heart?”