More than a dozen gravestones and memorials were toppled and spray-painted in Hollywood Cemetery on Saturday, causing more than $200,000 in damage, according to the Richmond police, who are investigating the vandalism.
“The desecration of graves is just a cowardly act that we cannot tolerate,” Police Chief Gerald Smith said at a Monday news conference asking the community for tips or any information about the incident.
Vandals entered the cemetery shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday, he said. It appears the vandals used a sledgehammer to knock over headstones and used black spray paint on some. The graffiti was not legible, Smith said.
The damage occurred in the Presidents Circle section of the cemetery, the final resting place of two presidents — James Monroe and John Tyler — among many other people. Smith said neither of those graves was disturbed.
The historic site is still an active cemetery and spans 135 acres overlooking the James River between the Oregon Hill and Randolph neighborhoods. More than 18,000 Confederate soldiers and generals are buried there.
“There was no clear markings that the graves that were desecrated had anything to do with the Confederacy,” Smith said. “Regardless of where the grave is or whose grave it is, that is something that I don’t believe the citizens of Richmond can tolerate.”
Smith said the amount of damage raises the crime to the level of a felony. Smith declined to say what charges were likely because the investigation is ongoing.
“This weekend’s desecration at Hollywood Cemetery is morally wrong. Disturbing final resting places is contemptible, criminal and will not be tolerated,” Mayor Levar Stoney said in a statement.
Lacyn Barton, president of Woody and Nelsen Funeral Homes, said the establishment holds frequent services and burials at Hollywood, making Saturday’s vandalism all the more shocking.
“Everybody wants to be remembered and the timeless way to do that is with a memorial or headstone,” Barton said. “For someone to take that away — it’s heart-rending.”
Barton is working with the cemetery to set up a fund for the restoration of the damaged graves, and donating $1,000.
Others can donate on the cemetery’s website, hollywoodcemetery.org.
The cemetery’s board of directors and management released a statement Sunday saying that it was aware of the vandalism on the property, and asked that anyone with information contact the cemetery at (804) 648-8501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Police also asked that tips be reported to Fourth Precinct Detective Rawlings at (804) 646-3182 or Crime Stoppers at 780-1000. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones also may be used. All Crime Stoppers reporting methods are anonymous.