By Kim West
ATHENS — With a suspect in custody and a majority of repairs complete, members of Little Ezekiel Missionary Baptist Church are attempting to find closure after Hatchett Cemetery was vandalized three times in November.
Robert Allen Muse, 21, of Falkville, was arrested in late November and charged with three counts of first-degree criminal mischief. He is currently being held in the Limestone County Jail on a $150,000 cash bail.
He is accused of vandalizing the cemetery on Nov. 8, 15 and 23 in successive weeks. The case is still under investigation by the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office, but no other suspects have been arrested.
Little Ezekiel deacon Thomas Townsend said the vandalism caused approximately $17,000 in total damages, based on a survey by Ardmore Monument Company. The company has donated materials and manpower to help restore the cemetery.
“I don’t think he was the only one involved, and I think other people were involved the first and second time,” said Townsend. “These monuments weigh over several hundred pounds, and they were picked up and moved. It’s pretty evident that not only one person did this, but I feel certain he was the only one the third time.”
Public defender Garry Clem has been appointed as Muse’s attorney, according to court records released Tuesday afternoon. Muse immediately requested an attorney when he was arrested and has not spoken to investigators.
Townsend said it’s unknown what connection Muse might have with the cemetery or Little Ezekiel.
“I believe law enforcement is doing everything they can,” Townsend said. “There has to be some connection, because it was vandalized not once, not twice but three times.”
The Beulah Land cemetery in southern Limestone County has about 200 marked tombstones. The cemetery is maintained by Little Ezekiel, which has nearly 200 members.
A majority of the grave markers were chipped, uprooted, scratched or shattered, and eight of them were damaged so badly they had to be replaced.
“As of now, most of the tombstones have been replaced,” said James Lucas, a deacon at Little Ezekiel. “Some still have scratches, and we’ll have to make a decision about what to do with those. We replaced eight of them, and Ardmore Monument had to re-make these because they were completely destroyed.”
The church has held four community workdays for cemetery repairs. After two of the workdays, the cemetery was again vandalized.
Churches and residents in Limestone County and beyond have responded with financial contributions to Little Ezekiel, which has pledged to fully restore the cemetery.
“We have received donations, mostly between $100 and $200, from churches and individuals, and we’re very thankful and appreciative,” Lucas said. “We just hope nothing else happens.”
Townsend said the church might receive restitution for the damages, but in the meantime the church has taken on the cost of repairs through church funds and donations.
“It was never questioned what we were going to do by the church leadership or the congregation,” Townsend said.
To report additional information about the vandalism case, contact the Sheriff’s Office at 256-232-0111.