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‘Seriously, what kind of person steals off graves?’

Katie Brotherson, Sophia Sayles, Easton Brotherson, Preston Aagard (front), Brandon Harlee Aagard (back), enjoyed Memorial Day by decorating their second cousin’s (Kymberlee and Kylee Christensen) grave. Many of the decorations shown here were stolen a few days after the picture was taken.
‘Seriously, what kind of person steals off graves?’

Painful, bewildering, all too common

Suzanne Dean

Publisher

6/22/2017

“Seriously, what kind of person steals off graves?”

The question, written in a Facebook post by Tammy Coates of Spring City, captures the pain and bewilderment victims feel regarding a phenomenon that appears to happen year after year, in all parts of Sanpete County, and beyond the county.

Coates has ample cause to grieve. On May 31, her daughter, Kammy Edmunds, who was 34, died from what police described as “blunt force trauma” to her head. She left two children behind, a 12-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl.

The death appears to be a classic domestic violence homicide. Edmunds’ boyfriend, Anthony Christensen, was arrested and later charged with homicide and desecration of a body.

Referring to theft of grave decorations, Coates wrote, “I know it happens. You see heartbroken posts and letters to the editor of the papers about this, and it sickens me.”

Then she told her own story. “I had hanging planters on Kammy Mae’s grave (in the Spring City Cemetery),” she wrote. “We had talked to the…caretakers, and they were okay with them. They were watered and well cared for because I want her resting place to be beautiful.

“Well, yup, somebody stole them. I’ve spoken with the caretakers, and it wasn’t them.” Coates wrote that she went back to the site later to leave a shaming note and two solar angels were also gone from the grave.

Within a day or two, 40 people replied to Coates’ post. The majority expressed sympathy. Many wrote that the same thing had happened to them.

Bonnie Keisel of Ephraim wrote simply: “So soorrrryyyy.”

Charlotte White of Mt. Pleasant wrote, “I’m so sorry people are so rude and disrespectful. We had things stolen off my dad’s grave, also.”

Angela Bailey Johnson of Spanish Fork, formerly of Mt. Pleasant, wrote, “People are so disrespectful and care about no one but themselves. This makes me so sad. Karma will get whoever did this.”

A week or two earlier and a few towns away, Karen Christensen of Manti had a similar experience and also told her story on Facebook, triggering a similar response.

She is the mother of twins girls born with a genetic disorder that caused them to be severely disabled. Early in the girls’ lives, doctors told her they would not live beyond their late teens or early 20s.

Christensen devoted more than 20 years to caring for her twins. In 2007, Kylee Marie died at 19. Four years later, Kymberlee Lyn died at 24.

They were buried in the Manti City Cemetery. The grave has a double headstone containing two hearts. Each daughter’s name, birth date and death date are engraved inside a heart.

One way Christensen connects with the girls is by decorating their graves. She decorates each year on their birthdays, one the day each girl died and every Memorial Day.

On Friday, May 28, a couple of days before Memorial Day, Christensen went to the cemetery with several bouquets, a wreath and other decorations, including two miniature fairy cottages with solar lights inside, two flower sticks containing solar lights and two butterfly sticks that had glitter on the butterflies. The decorations cost about $70.

Cemetery rules permit decorations posted over Memorial Day weekend to stay in the cemetery until one week after Memorial Day. A sign is always posted saying when decorations must be removed “and I’ve always followed that,” Christensen said.

After decorating the graves on Friday, she returned to the cemetery on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Everything was still there. But when she went back Wednesday, the lighted fairy cottages and butterfly stakes were gone.

“I was hurt,” she says. “I put things on there that mean something to me, associated with the memory of those girls. No one has a right to take those things. We put them out for the public to enjoy, but not to take.”

At 8:38 that night, Christensen posted a message on Facebook addressed to whoever took the decorations. “You should be ashamed of yourself, and I’m mad,” she wrote, “If you thought they would look good in your flower garden, you ought to think twice because I will be watching.”

Within a few days, 53 people responded.

Polly Wolfe of Manti, a widow, wrote that in a number of different years, items she had placed on her husband’s grave in the Manti Cemetery had been taken. “I’ve thought about putting out a trail camera, but they’d probably steal that, too,” she wrote.

LuDon Augustus of Manti wrote that “for the last two years, everything was taken from my parents’ graves” in the Sterling Town Cemetery.

Kalleen Braithwaite, who lost both her husband and a daughter at premature ages, wrote that in 2016, vandals ripped a marble vase that was built into one of her headstones off the stone and broke the vase. Flowers from both her husband’s and her daughter’s graves were also taken.

A few years ago, another woman in Manti, who asked not to be named in this article, caught the people who took decorations off her parents’ graves.

The woman said she and other family members usually decorate the graves in the Manti City Cemetery on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Memorial Day.

Three or four years ago, after one of the holidays, the family left a plant hanger with two large potted plants at the gravesite, which is permissible under cemetery rules. The woman’s brother went to the cemetery every day to water the plants.

Then, just like in the Christensen case, the woman went to the cemetery the Wednesday after Memorial Day. The hanger and pots, along with other flowers, were gone.

The woman let friends and family know about the theft. Before long, a neighbor called and said she had seen a significant cache of what looked like grave decorations in a yard in Manti.

The woman went to the house in question, and sure enough, there was her plant hanger (she’d had the foresight to carve her initials into it), and two pots of flowers that belonged to her. After getting permission, she took back her belongings. Then she contacted authorities.

The resident of the house where her decorations (and by all appearances, decorations taken from other graves) were found, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, paid a fine and was required to write a public apology letter, which was published in the Sanpete Messenger.

            Sanpete County Attorney Brody Keisel said there is no state statute specifically addressing theft of grave decorations. Such thefts are covered under general theft statutes, and the level of charges depends on the monetary value of items taken.