The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 18, 2012

Cemetery vandalized a second time

'It just kind of hurts'

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— For the second time in less than 10 days, vandals have struck Hatchett Cemetery in the rural Beulah Land community in southern Limestone County.

The cemetery, which is surrounded by cornfields on a remote portion of Bridgeforth Road, was vandalized either Nov. 8 or Nov. 9 as many of the approximately 200 grave markers were toppled over, cracked or split into smaller slabs.

During a workday last Wednesday, members of Little Ezekiel Missionary Baptist Church and volunteer workers from Ardmore Monument Company worked together for several hours to make the cemetery look presentable again as many of the tombstones were placed into their original positions by using a setting compound, but the graves were knocked over again sometime late Thursday night or early Friday morning.

“It just kind of hurts not knowing why — not knowing why someone would go to this much trouble to destroy a cemetery not only once, but twice,” said Deacon James Lucas as he stood resolutely in front of the graves of his parents, Edna and Sandy Lucas last Friday. “I can’t say that it’s the same ones who keep doing this … it just hurts, but life goes on. With the help of the Lord, we’ll get over it.”

By 11 a.m. Friday morning, several cars were parked along both sides of the road as family members of those buried at Hatchett, Little Ezekiel deacons and a Limestone County sheriff’s deputy had arrived to inspect the second round of damage.

Within the hour, a news cameraman, a gloved investigator searching for evidence and a vehicle full of people had also arrived at the cemetery, which was officially established in 1930 and serves as a final resting place for many well-known African-American families and military veterans in the county.

Some of the visitors stood quietly in front of their relatives’ final resting places, while others kneeled down and bowed their heads in prayer on a bright and clear winter day that contrasted sharply with the somber mood among the onlookers.

“I’ve been coming here for 38 years, and sometimes I come by with my grandson to bring flowers,” said Alireza Nasseri, a member of New Life Church whose in-laws are buried at Hatchett. “I know everybody here who has died in the last 40 years.

“I have traveled all over the world, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I didn’t know people (could) think like this because I look at different churches and people the same way, and my mother taught me to think that way and respect all people.”

Another community workday was held yesterday beginning at 9 a.m. as church members, volunteers and family members of those buried gathered again to clean and make repairs. Thousands of dollars in damage will cause some families to replace the headstones, while others cannot afford that option.

Despite the negativity surrounding the acts of vandalism, Lucas said members of the Little Ezekiel congregation are focusing on their faith.

“The message last Sunday (during church services) was, ‘Don’t be discouraged,’” said Lucas, who also serves on the Athens City Schools school board. “(Being) a born-again believer, I know God will have the last say in all of our lives, and I know the Lord gives me strength.

“People have always done things that are not pleasing in God’s eyes, and we still have to be encouraged and encourage others to keep the faith.”

Members of Little Ezekiel, including Lucas and Deacon Thomas Townsend, have also repeatedly declined to make any accusations about the identities and motives of the vandals.

“We have to encourage each other, and don’t throw stone for stone,” said Lucas, who managed to make a wry pun after being asked if a particular Bible passage had given him comfort. “There are laws we live by in this land, and all of us are supposed to live by them — certain areas we leave up to the law enforcement.”

The Limestone County Sheriff’s Office is investigating. To make a report about the vandalism, call 256-232-0111. A reward is being offered for information or leads by the Sheriff’s Office.