Tony Reid couldn’t help but feel disturbed as he picked American flags off the ground at Greenlawn Memorial Park on Sunday.
“This is just uncalled for,” said Reid, 47. “I don’t have time to fix everything, but I bet I could walk around here and fix a lot.”
Reid lives in Elgin but drove to the Lower Richland cemetery Sunday afternoon after seeing news reports about the more than 100 gravesites that were vandalized there between Saturday night and Sunday morning. His father is buried in the cemetery – among Columbia’s largest – and he wanted to make sure his grave had not been vandalized. It had not.
Damage to the graves included the shredding of flowers and American flags, dislodging of vases and throwing of debris throughout several sections in the cemetery.
Multiple American flags placed at some of the gravesites had been pulled up and apparently thrown. Others were placed in vases upside down, and some appeared to have been shredded. Red, white and blue tatters were seen around one portion of the cemetery. Greenlawn employees worked throughout the day Sunday to clean up.
General manager Suzanne Elkins said Sunday four or five sections of the cemetery were affected, adding it looked like a “mini-tornado” went through parts of some sections. No particular kinds of graves were targeted by the vandals, she said.
Elkins said she spoke Sunday with many family members who were in tears after learning of the vandalism to their loved ones’ graves and were asking, “Who would do this to my mother?” or “Who would do this to my husband?”
The Columbia Police Department is investigating the vandalism, and spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said damage at the Garners Ferry Road cemetery is estimated to be around $10,000.
Reid felt disgust as he collected American flags that were displaced among the headstones of veterans of World War II and the wars in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Korea and Iraq.
“You don’t find these kinds of patriots anymore,” he said. “These flags are destroyed.”
Marianne Howard, 65, drove from Fayetteville, N.C., to visit the grave of her father, William M. Howard, an Army sergeant 1st class who served in World War II and the Korean War.
“I picked up some of the flags and replaced them,” she said. “It’s not a happy situation because the people who come here and put up the flowers did it in good faith.”
Howard said her father’s headstone wasn’t damaged, but items have been stolen from it in the past, including a Christmas tree.
Greenlawn’s Elkins said everyone at the cemetery was “deeply saddened by the destruction.” There are no surveillance cameras on the property, though that could change, she said. “We wish to assure our families that we are fully committed to restoring the park and bringing the gravesites back to their dignified and respectable standards,” Elkins said.
Anyone with information should call Columbia police or CrimeStoppers at (888) CRIME-SC.
Greenlawn Memorial Park announces plans to address vandalism and thank community
In a press release Sunday night, cemetery management announced that it will replace the vases and flowers damaged or destroyed in the vandalism and host a cookout for the community.
On Saturday, July 8, family members can pick out new flowers and American flags at the cemetery and join with the greater community at a cookout.
9:00a.m. - 5:00 p.m. - Family members can pick out new flowers and American flags.
11:00 - 2:00 p.m. - Community cookout hosted by Greenlawn to express thanks and appreciation to families and members of the community “who have shown tremendous kindness in their efforts to assist in the restoration of the memorial park.”
People who with to donate funds to the cost of replacing the flowers are asked to check the Greenlawn Memorial Park Facebook page as plans are still being coordinated.