For three nights in a row, vehicles drove through Anderson Funeral Home’s Forest Lawn Cemetery, tearing up the grass over undeveloped burial plots, Carla Smith, part-owner of the funeral home, said Thursday morning.
Vehicle tires cut “doughnuts” on the lawn, dug up grass and scarred the cemetery. One deep cut in the lawn came within about a foot of going over into a pond on the property. The damage to the grounds is estimated at about $1,000, according a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office report.
“This is sacred, holy ground,” Smith said. She likened it to a home invasion. “This is a violation,” she said, not only of the resting place for around 700 souls, but of the place of mourning for all of their family members.
More personally for her, she said, “This is my father’s legacy.” It doesn’t just sting as a business owner but as a daughter carrying on her family’s story.
The damage to the property on Robert Smalls Parkway in Burton first came to Smith’s attention Tuesday morning, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office report. Vandals not only tore up the lawn and left trash behind, but they went into the 6- to 8-foot-deep pond and pulled out an old metal stretcher from the days when the funeral home was also an ambulance service, Smith said.
Red “No Trespassing” signs have been put up, torn down by the intruders and replaced again by funeral home staff members more than once, Smith and other employees said.
After speaking with a family that lives near the cemetery, Smith found out there had been vehicles on the lawn Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights, she said. One vehicle the first night, three the second night and seven the third night.
Then, on Wednesday night, her husband stayed late at the funeral home, Smith said. When a vehicle pulled in a side entrance to the cemetery shortly after 7 p.m. and headed straight for the back, undeveloped area, he confronted the young female driver and two young men, she said.
They were polite and apologetic and said they hadn’t been there any of the previous nights, Smith said on Thursday. Her husband told them to spread the word that the vandalism wasn’t going to be tolerated.
Smith is concerned, though, that the it won’t stop. She said she is afraid of damage to headstones or memorials.
Since the cemetery’s start in 1974 and even since the funeral home’s beginning in 1959 in Beaufort, nothing like this has ever happened, Smith said. She’s hoping it never will again.