Vandals toppled gravestones at the Central Point Cemetery over the weekend, knocking over or destroying more than 40 historic grave markers, some dating back to the 1800s. - Bob Pennell

Vandals target historic cemetery

CENTRAL POINT — Vandals struck the Central Point Cemetery over the weekend, knocking over or destroying more than 40 historic grave markers, police said.

Because of the historic significance of the cemetery, the exact amount of damage isn't known yet, but is expected to be well into the thousands of dollars, authorities said.

A woman who lives near the cemetery, on Hamrick Road in Central Point, was taking a regular walk through the grounds Tuesday morning when she noticed the toppled gravestones and contacted police.

With 46 damaged graves counted so far, the agency suspects multiple people took part in the vandalism.

"It was very careless vandalism," Central Point police Capt. Chuck Newell said. "Vandalism is reckless, and this was done for no apparent reason."

Newell said that because the graves are historic, many from the late 1800s and early 1900s, assessing the damages will be tricky, and each grave or monument will have to be considered individually.

This is some of the most extensive and saddening vandalism seen at a cemetery in the area in the past few years, according to Dirk Siedlecki, chairman of the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries.

"This is very concerning, and pretty major vandalism," said Siedlecki, "It's pretty hard to come up with any dollar amount."

Siedlecki said that because the grave markers are so heavy, and so many were damaged, one person couldn't have committed all of the vandalism.

"One person is not going to be able to push all these monuments over," he said. "It can't be done in just a couple of minutes."

The cemetery had been neglected for a long time until a Memorial Day service at the adjacent Don Jones Park in 2007 drew attention to overgrown weeds and broken headstones. Community members stepped forward and brought the cemetery back to a nicer condition.

"A group of volunteers had done such a nice job," Siedlecki said. "They must be devastated."

A volunteer training was previously planned for May 3 at the cemetery to teach people how to restore historic grave markers, but Siedlecki didn't expect they would have so many to work with.

Siedlecki hopes spreading the word about the vandalism will attract more volunteers, and also keep people alert for future vandalism.

Police have canvassed the area around the cemetery, hoping neighbors saw something, and are asking the public for help in identifying the vandals.

The crime of abuse to a memorial to the dead carries a $50,000 maximum fine, plus an option for courts to impose additional restitution charges if the culprits are found.

Siedlecki said volunteers likely will be the ones who will begin restoring the graves, and it could take more than six months until the cemetery is back to normal.

Teresa Ristow is a reporting intern for the Mail Tribune.

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