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Arrest Made After More Than 200 Swastikas Appear on Cemetery Headstones

Tonya Johnson trying to remove a swastika that was spray-painted on a headstone at Sunset Hill Memorial Estates cemetery in Glen Carbon, Ill. More than 200 headstones and monuments were similarly vandalized. Credit: Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

5/27/2018 - Every year, for about the last three decades, residents of Glen Carbon on the western edge of Illinois have been able to spend their Memorial Day honoring the fallen at Sunset Hill Memorial Estates cemetery, where more than 1,400 veterans are buried.

For the community of about 13,000, the annual celebration is a significant undertaking: There is a balloon release, wounded warriors speak and the cemetery displays hundreds of flags.

On Saturday, groundskeepers made a shocking discovery: More than 200 monuments and headstones had been vandalized, each spray-painted with a swastika.

Officials said volunteers swarmed the cemetery and quickly got to work scrubbing. Restaurants and businesses donated food and products, and people showed up asking what they could do to help.

As of late Sunday afternoon, officials said there were still a few headstones in need of touching up but that they would be ready by Monday.

“How do you take something like this and make it positive?” asked Jeanne Brunette, the manager of the cemetery. “You can’t all the way, but you can sure find out what our community is about.”

Ms. Brunette called the episode “devastating,” adding, after a pause: “I don’t even know how to describe it to you. There’s just tears and disillusionment and disappointment.”

What followed, she said, was an “outpouring of love.”

More than 26,000 people are buried at the cemetery, which is nondenominational. Ms. Brunette said the vandal did not appear to target any specific headstones.

The authorities said they arrested a 34-year-old Glen Carbon man in connection with the vandalism at the cemetery as well as swastikas spray-painted on houses in a subdivision in a neighboring community.

Jay A. Keeven, the police chief in nearby Edwardsville, Ill., which is investigating the vandalism of the homes, said he did not believe that the man had timed his crime to fall over Memorial Day weekend.

“I think this individual made a poor choice,” he said, adding that the man was someone the police were familiar with. He said he could not elaborate and would not identify the man until he was formally charged on Tuesday.

The authorities said the man was expected to face charges such as institutional vandalism and criminal defacement of property over $500, a felony. Lt. Wayne White of the Glen Carbon police said he expected prosecutors to also file hate crime charges.

“The fact that he did this on Memorial Day weekend is inexcusable and disgusting behavior that we’re not going to tolerate,” Lieutenant White said.

The authorities said the man was arrested Saturday afternoon after the police posted a video of someone leaving the subdivision that was vandalized.


(c) 2018 The New York Times

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