POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Grieving families are outraged the mementos left at their loved ones’ graves were removed without notice at a Dutchess County cemetery.
As CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported, it is not thieves or vandals breaking the families’ hearts all over again. It is, in fact, their own church.
Teddy bears and flower pots have been taken from children’s graves at St. Peter’s Catholic Cemetery in Poughkeepsie, and they have been tossed in a huge dumpster. Some have been left spilling out onto the ground.
“They took all my little angels that have been here for over 20 years. They’re only a couple inches high,” said Christine Weiner. “They took my heart.”
Weiner lost her 2 1/2-year old son, John, in 1993. She visits his grave regularly at St. Peter’s.
“On his birthday, I’ll bring a little cupcake, light the candle, sing, ‘Happy Birthday,’” she said.
Weiner and other families are stunned that cemetery workers removed everything — including religious statues, angels, and flags — without warning.
Martin Mesuda lost his daughter, Melinda, 10 years ago. Now, her once-decorated gravestone is bare.
“It’s not right. It’s not right what they’re doing to people,” Mesuda said. “It’s all we have left!”
CBS2 went to the cemetery office, but nobody came to the door.
Meanwhile, no one at the church was available to answer CBS2’s questions on camera about the decoration removals, but a woman at the rectory told CBS2’s Conybeare that the cemetery has rules and people need to follow those rules.
New signs have been posted, clearly laying out prohibited items – including plastic flowers and vases, ornaments and decorations, and trinkets or statues that are not permanently attached to headstones.
“St. Peter’s has an obligation for the decorum of everyone who comes to visit their loved ones, as well as for the safety of cemetery employees who have to maintain the gravesites,” said New York Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling.
But Jessica Paterson said, “It was heartbreaking.”
Paterson was sorting through the dumpster Tuesday and posting items on Facebook to try to get them back to the families.
“It’s not that you have to be worried about vandalism from outsiders,” she said. “The people at the cemetery are doing it.”
Christmas decorations are now up on little John’s grave.
“When we can’t come and visit and leave a token, and have to worry whether or not when we come back if it’s there or not, what do we have left?” Weiner said.
Neither St. Peter’s nor the Archdiocese would comment on why a notice was not put in the church bulletin warning people of the new policy.