A tall monument has come to rest at an ugly angle in the grass, separated from its base and from its cap. On its face are the names of three children – a teenage girl, a 1-year-old boy and an infant – dead for many decades. In the stone's toppled position, the names of these siblings look helpless and disgraced.
Across the row, a headstone marking the names of a long-dead couple is likewise askew. He died in 1918, she in 1925. Nearby are three bone-white stones, each fallen face down on the ground. It is impossible to read the names of the dead or anything else written there. Try until you are winded and sweaty, the stones cannot be budged by hand.
The scene is repeated as far as the eye can wander. Standing in the center of the cemetery, the view is of a place that has been targeted by a tornado. Grave markers great and small are strewn across the grounds like holy playthings cast away by a hateful child.
I’m pretty sure no one asked for my opinion this morning. I’m going to give it to you, anyway.
No expense should be spared in tracking down and arresting whomever swept through Riverside Cemetery in Lewiston, leaving overturned stones and a heavy feeling of violation in their wake.
The case should not be shuffled to the bottom of the complaint stack. No officer should let himself feel that this is just another case of vandalism. A person who demonstrates disrespect for the dead and for the grieving is capable of bigger things; ghastlier things.
I don’t think I can state that strongly enough. A person who will desecrate the final resting place of the dead is a particular brand of fiend, in the same league as those who torture animals. It’s a soulless kind of deed, one that insults the dead and re-victimizes the living in one brute stroke.
These are people who lack the capability for empathy; and brother, that should frighten you. If the dead are not taboo, then neither are the very young or the very old, those inhabitants of our society who cannot protect themselves. The desecration of a graveyard is an act of such hostility, we should think of it as foreshadowing things to come.
We have a special place for the dead, most of us. We don’t just scoop them into the ground and throw dirt over their bones, we build an elaborate necropolis and deem the grounds sacred. We erect monuments to pay tribute to those who have passed. We visit frequently and place flowers on the graves of our loved ones.
For the families of those whose headstones were knocked over like playthings, the level of violation is like a direct assault. Like spit in the eye. For the rest of us, it’s a reminder that our world is full of monsters. That even in death, a person is vulnerable to the whims of the sociopath.
“It’s an abhorrent act. I don’t think there’s a better word than that,” said one man I talked to about the vandalism. “The people who are buried there, these are the people who fought in the wars. These are the people who helped build this city. And a hundred years later, a group of drunken idiots come along and disrespect them this way. It’s deplorable.”
By statute, it’s trespassing and vandalism, puny words in the context of what was done. This is nothing like a tire-slashing or crude words spray-painted on the side of a bridge. The molestation of a cemetery transcends the kind of mischief most of us got into as kids. This doesn’t feel like a crime; it feels like a sin. It affects us in a mortal way.
The damage at Riverside was discovered on Friday. Today is Saturday. And everywhere I go, people ask me about it. Have they caught them yet? Have the fiends been brought to justice? I’ve heard from people who have loved ones buried at Riverside. When they talk to me about the recent happenings there, they are fearful and angry.
Mostly angry. As are the rest of us who recognize that this is something that rises far above simple tomfoolery.
“I don’t even know anyone buried there,” another man told me, “but I’d like to find out who did this and teach them a lesson myself.”
The county sheriff wrote me with his ideas of forming a posse – a group of people who will move in on the cemetery and clean it up. Cops, businessmen, whoever wants to come out and help. He might even offer inmates from the jail a chance to work outside, if their manpower is needed.
Seem strange? A group of jail inmates helping to clean up in the aftermath of a crime spree? No so strange, really. The bulk of accused criminals themselves find the idea of cemetery vandalism unacceptable. After all, they have mothers or fathers, brothers or sisters buried somewhere, too.
"A lot of them are no doubt upset by this, just like the rest of us," Sheriff Guy Desjardins said.
And that, above all, should serve as a dire warning to the culprits responsible: When you inspire police and criminals to work side by side in a matter of mutual interest, you know you've messed up bad.
Anyone with information should feel free to pass it along to me anonymously at 784-7045 ext. 2176.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.