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Vandals Drive Over Gravesites, Badly Damage Gazebo During Cemetery Joyride

By | August 18, 2014

Delta Mayor Pro Tem Mary Leith examines the badly damaged gazebo in the Rest Haven Cemetery Sunday morning. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC - Fairbanks)

Delta Mayor Pro Tem Mary Leith examines the badly damaged gazebo in the Rest Haven Cemetery Sunday morning. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks)

Alaska State Troopers are investigating vandalism at the Delta Junction cemetery over the weekend. The vandals drove through the fence both on the way in and out of the cemetery and then ran over several gravesites on their way to the gazebo, which they nearly destroyed.

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Delta city officials say the damage at Rest Haven Cemetery was reported around 9 a.m. Sunday by a city worker who’d gone there to help with a burial scheduled for later that morning.

A chunk of broken fencing lies on the ground where the vandals apparently exited the cemetery. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC - Fairbanks)

A chunk of broken fencing lies on the ground where the vandals apparently exited the cemetery. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks)

As he surveyed the damage, city administrator Mike Tvenge struggled to find words to describe the shock and outrage that he and many other area residents were feeling as word of the vandalism spread. Tvenge says city staff will contact family members of those whose graves were damaged during the vandals’ destructive joy ride.

“Certainly we would call families and alert them to what happened,” he said. “It’s absolute disrespect of those here and those families of loved ones.  It’s sad. To me it’s sad.”

But it appears the gravesites weren’t the main goal of the vandals. Those just happened to be in the path that they took to get to the gazebo in the center of the cemetery. That’s how it looked to Tvenge as he walked along the tire tracks that run from where the vehicle apparently smashed through the fence to get in and a few feet away where it smashed its way out.

“Got damage to the fence in two different places, so far. Yep,” he muttered.

The support posts on all four corners were broken, causing the roof to collapse onto the deck. Tvenge says it appears the vandals may have lashed a strap onto one or more of the posts to facilitate the destruction.

“Well, they hooked a strap up to it, it looks like, and tore the building down.

The gazebo was built in 2008 by a Delta youth for his Eagle Scout project. A plaque on the structure states that Eagle Scout Matt Joslin dedicated the structure to his baby brother, who died soon after birth.

Most of the headstones in the path of the vandals were flat, so damage was limited to crushed flowers and broken mementos, like flag-holders provided by the American Legion. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC - Fairbanks)

Most of the headstones in the path of the vandals were flat, so damage was limited to crushed flowers and broken mementos, like flag-holders provided by the American Legion. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks)

Tvenge and Delta Mayor Pro Tem Mary Leith, who also was there to check the damage, both say it’s hard to assign a cost estimate to repair the gazebo, because it like the rest of the cemetery was built with volunteer labor and donated or discounted materials.

Which, in a way, makes the vandalism all the more aggravating.

“This has all been done with volunteer labor. And then these idiots come along – I just don’t get it. I don’t get the mindset,” she said. “It’s just a bunch of people putting their heart into the place and then some idiot comes along…”

Troopers weren’t saying much about the incident Sunday. Spokeswoman Megan Peters would only confirm that an investigation is under way.

Editor’s note: The reporter is married to Mayor Pro Tem Mary Leith.

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