Cemetery vandalism leads to cameras

The grave of Jeaninne Clark, where a ceramic plaque was smashed in February, is seen recently. (Provided photo — Lisa Reed)

TUPPER LAKE — Representatives from the St. Alphonsus Holy Name of Jesus Parish have decided to install cameras at the parish-run cemetery on the intersection of Stetson Road and Hosley Avenue following apparent vandalism and theft at several graves over the winter.

Parish secretary Lisa Reed oversees the operation of the cemetery and said she plans to have the cameras installed in a month, hoping deter or catch future vandals.

State Police were called to investigate a damaged grave headstone on Feb. 18.

“At the time, there was still heavy snow, but we did not find any other damages. No arrests have been made,” State Police Public Information Officer Jennifer Fleishman wrote in an email.

Reed said the vandalism was reported by George Clark, who she said visits his deceased wife Jeannine’s grave nearly every day. Reed said he was at the cemetery Feb. 13, and when he returned on the 18th, a round ceramic headstone plaque was shattered and a metal shepherd’s hook meant for hanging plants was broken in half.

Reed said Trooper Alex Stuart, who handled the case, said there was only one set of footprints in the deep snow, leading from the front entrance straight to the site of the vandalism, then to Tupper Lake police Sgt. Matthew Dana’s grave, right near Clark’s, and out the back toward the Wild Center.

Reed said there were several other minor incidents of theft that occurred at other gravesites in the same area recently, all deep in the back of the cemetery in an area that Reed said is the final resting place for mostly young people.

In August 2018, Reed said a “blue line” U.S. flag, indicating support for police, was missing from Dana’s grave. She said in that incident a light went missing from Jason Larabie’s grave and that recently wires on solar-powered butterflies were cut at the grave of Erin Dewyea.

Reed said she is unsure if these incidents are related, if the vandalism was targeted or what the motivation was.

“I can’t imagine what would make people want to damage things in a cemetery,” Reed said.

She doubts the damage was caused by children. She said it seemed too deliberate and that kids usually do things like that in groups, and the vandal had to be strong enough to break the shepherd’s hook.

“We will have cameras, definitely,” Reed said. “(But) I suspect that people have put trail cameras up there already.”

She said she finds it sad that a church needs surveillance cameras.

Reed said the parish installed cameras at the Holy Ghost Academy Parish Center last year after someone broke the head off a statue of a statue of the virgin Mary. She said the cemetery would use the same system, allowing the cameras to be monitored remotely, from a phone. She said the parish would likely install three or more, covering the entrances. Reed said it will hire Barkley’s Safe and Lock from Canton, who did the cameras at the HGA.

She said after a series of theft incidents three or four years ago, the village installed a camera on a pole outside the cemetery road entrance for about a month, but neighbors complained that the camera could see into their property.

Reed said that if a video catches a vandal, the parish will pursue charges with state police and put the video on social media.

The parish supplies burial easements for families burying on the property, and when they buy and install a headstone, it means they are responsible for that property. If it is damaged, the family pays for it.

The parish has policies requiring decorations be removed from graves in November and restricting access in the winter, but Reed said they are not strictly enforced.

“We’re not going to stop someone from seeing a loved ones’ grave,” Reed said.