Cemetery employees arriving for work discovered nearly 50 flags missing from a row of flagpoles.

GARDINER (AP) – The 41 American flags found floating in a Kennebec River tributary over the weekend were stolen from the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta, officials said Monday.

Gardiner police Officer Scott MacMaster retrieved the 4-by-8-foot flags from Cobbosseecontee Stream Saturday morning, but was at a loss to explain where they might have come from.

On Monday, cemetery employees arriving for work discovered nearly 50 flags missing from a row of flagpoles lining a road in front of the cemetery’s chapel. Cemetery officials, who had heard about the flags discovered in Gardiner, immediately realized their flags were the ones found in the stream.

Police said someone intentionally cut the cords used to hoist the flags up the poles, either Friday night or early Saturday morning.

“To come in here, after dark, and take our flags and then just throw them into the river is pretty sad,” said Glenda Knowlan, office manager of the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

An employee of the Gardiner Boys and Girls Club called police Saturday to report she had seen a few American flags submerged in the Cobbosseecontee Stream about 20 feet from where it flows into the Kennebec River.

When MacMaster investigated, he found a mass of flags that had clumped together near some pilings.

With a hook and rope, he fished the flags out of the water one by one; when he was done, he had 41 of them.

MacMaster said the flags were dirty and smelly, and that his mother and Gardiner police Sgt. Stan Guilmette’s wife washed them over the weekend.

On Monday, firefighters folded the flags before they were to be picked up by a cemetery worker.

Knowlan said she heard from several veterans and veterans’ family members who are angry that someone removed flags from the peaceful, well-kept grounds of the cemetery, the site of some 14,000 veterans’ graves.

“Upset isn’t the word. They’re irate,” she said.

MacMaster said the investigation into the stolen flags is ongoing, but that police did not have any suspects.

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