Cemetery vandalism is not a new phenomenon or one that is unique to the city of Kenai, but when it happens to a loved one's grave, the fact that it has happened to others is no consolation.
Delia Wellborn of Kenai can attest to that, as her son Heeth's grave site has been vandalized four times in the year and a half that he has been buried in the Kenai Municipal Cemetery.
The most recent occurrence of vandalism happened the night of June 24, when someone apparently set fire to the granite headstone and burned it badly enough to crack the base, she said.
"The headstone was burned and the bottom side of the headstone was cracked completely off," she said. "... If you go out there and look at the damage you can see that it was a pretty intense fire. It's just unreal, I just don't understand."
Wellborn said a friend of her son's had been in the cemetery visiting his grave in the early evening of June 24. The next evening another friend came by to visit the grave and discovered the damage.
The police were called and an officer came to investigate. Wellborn said the officer suggested the damage may have been done accidentally by candles, but Wellborn doesn't think that's the case.
"It wasn't a accident, I don't believe it was," she said. "Someone was out to hurt me and hurt the kids who still care for Heeth and love him and miss him."
Wellborn and other visitors at her son's grave have lit candles there many times, and nothing like this has ever occurred, she said. It looked and smelled to her like there had been some kind of chemical squirted on the headstone to make it burn. She plans to have the stone analyzed to see what that chemical may be. She also plans to see if the city will assist in replacing the cracked bottom portion of the headstone.
Though this was the worse case of vandalism Wellborn has seen at her son's grave, it was not the first time she has been through this.
"On Mother's Day, my first Mother's Day that I had after he was dead, it was vandalized," she said. "A bunch of stuff was stolen off it ... trash was spread around, and that was pretty devastating for me to have to deal with on my Mother's Day."
On two other occasions things like necklaces and flowers have been stolen from the site as well, Wellborn said.
After the headstone had burned, Wellborn was so upset she said she thought about saving enough money to have her son's body exhumed and sent to California to be buried with his grandmother to avoid this kind of vandalism. After calming from the shock of the experience, Wellborn decided not to do that, but hopes something can be done to protect against further incidents of vandalism.
"When anybody goes by, just always look over and see if they see anything just take a look," she said. "A graveyard is a peaceful place, it's a good place. ... Just maybe people can watch out more."
The Kenai Police Department has been investigating several occurrences of vandalism that have happened at the cemetery over the year, though no vandals have been caught red-handed. According to Lt. Kim Wannamaker, the department takes any damage complaints very seriously.
"It is a priority for us to maintain the peacefulness and serenity of that hallowed ground, and we have taken steps to prevent reoccurring vandalism," he said.
In addition to keeping an eye on the cemetery during night-time and other patrols, the department has conducted a site survey to look for ways to improve security and decrease vandals' access to the site, Wannamaker said.
The survey included considering things like altering the height of fences, clearing shrubbery to make the cemetery more visible, and using locked gates and surveillance cameras.
There are signs posted at the cemetery saying the facility is under electronic surveillance, but there aren't any cameras, Wellborn said, which, in her opinion, just encourages vandals.
"We didn't see cameras anywhere," Wellborn said. "(The signs) are stupid, it's just egging them on."
Wannamaker said using surveillance cameras is a feasibility issue, but it is being discussed, as are locked gates. He also encouraged the public to keep a watchful eye on the cemetery, and report any out-of-the ordinary activity, whether it is confirmed vandalism or just looks suspicious.
"Obviously the police can't be everywhere all the time," Wanna-maker said. "The community is and are our eyes and our ears."
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