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Help arrives for toppled tombstones

Saturday, December 01, 2007

MILLVILLE -- Work is now under way at Mount Pleasant Cemetery to fix approximately 72 tombstones that were toppled over by vandals sometime around Thanksgiving.

While caretakers at the cemetery expected the clean-up to be a monumental task, their job has been made easier because of the help of volunteers.

"(On Thursday) we had three guys come in from Cherry Hill," caretaker Jim Reeves said Friday, adding the volunteers were from Reads Moving Systems of New Jersey, Inc. "We set 15 monuments up."

Work at the cemetery on West Main Street is expected to continue this afternoon, when members of the Venatores Gunning Club offer their services to Reeves and his crew.

"We are just basically assisting with manpower," Jason Cossaboon, treasurer of the club, said Friday.

He added members of the club, located on Cedarville Road, have ties to the cemetery, and the club also felt it would be something nice to do.

"What makes this interesting is that Monday is the start of six-day firearm season, and while our club is extremely busy with preparing for (it), we are taking time out to better the community," Cossaboon said. "All too often, hunters receive a bad reputation. This might help change the views of some people."

He added club members, hopefully around a dozen of them, will be at the cemetery around 12:30 p.m. to offer their help.

Other volunteers are also expected to join the gunning club members, according to Reeves, who added any and all help is appreciated.

"They provide manpower for my guys," he said. "With the extra manpower, we are able to get (the gravestones) up quick."

Reeves said he has received a lot of calls offering help to clean up the cemetery. Equipment has also been donated to help with resetting the stones.

He added when Reads came to the cemetery they were able to get the 15 stones up in two hours. He added that task would have usually taken his crew about two days.

As for the police investigation, Reeves said fingerprints have been taken off the stones, and police are following what leads they have.

Damage at the cemetery is being estimated at approximately $10,000, but several of the older stones may be beyond repair.

Reeves has said they will pursue charges against the vandals if they can find them.

Police said the 70-plus tombstones were pushed over, causing some to break off at the base, and some to break in half when they hit the ground.

The vandalism was discovered by Reeves' assistant. Police said it occurred sometime between Nov. 21 and Nov. 22.

"It's frustrating," Reeves previously said of the vandalism. "It's heart wrenching sometimes when you see it. It turns my stomach when I see they turned over some stones."

Cash rewards are being offered by the cemetery's caretakers and Crime Stoppers of Millville. The rewards total close to $2,000.

Anyone with information on this vandalism is asked to contact Crime Stoppers on its 24-hour hotline, 825-2182.

Tipsters don't have to leave their names. A code number will be assigned for identification, and if the information provided leads to an arrest and indictment, a drop stop will be assigned so the reward can be claimed.