Brittany Smith found her friend Chyvonne when the 6-year-old collapsed and died at school in 1990. Last month, she discovered that her friend’s headstone had been damaged.
“I go out there every year on her birthday and the day she died,” Smith said. “Somebody took her vase. It was there last year.”
Smith contacted Chyvonne’s family. When Chyvonne’s dad, Steven Whitson, went to investigate, he found that almost all of the attached bronze vases in the newer section of Mansfield Cemetery had been ripped off the headstones and taken, including the one marking Chyvonne and her little brother’s grave and his parents’ adjacent gravestone.
“When I saw my kids’ (headstone), I was kind of upset, then I looked around and saw they hit every one of them,” Whitson said.
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The robbery occurred between August and Nov. 14, Whitson estimates, and could include up to 100 other graves. Whitson filed a police report for the pair of vases missing from his family’s headstones, but the police said other families will have to report the thefts on their own headstones.
“See, this whole row is gone,” he said, waving his arm across the cemetery last week. “Just count the holes.”
The bronze vases, which weigh between seven and eight pounds, can be twisted and inserted into the headstones when not in use. Many of the Mansfield Cemetery headstones also had a bronze ring that held the vase in place stolen, or showed signs that someone had tried to pry the ring and vase out.
JoAnn Harris, president of the Mansfield Cemetery Association, said this isn’t the first time the 10-acre cemetery has been robbed. The cemetery, located off Burl Ray Road, has thousands of graves, with the oldest dating back to the 1800s.
“It’s sad that people don’t have any respect,” Harris said. “A lot are probably their ancestors.”
Thad Penkala, spokesman for the Mansfield police, said normally it’s criminal mischief reported from the cemetery because there isn’t a lot to steal. But metal theft is soaring, so the thieves probably wanted the vases for the bronze, he said.
Whitson called Burleson Monument, which sold him the headstones for his children and parents, and was told that it would cost $385 to replace each vase. With bronze selling at $1.60 per pound, the vases would bring $11-$13 if sold for the metal.
Whitson bought a pair of plastic vases to temporarily replace his family’s stolen ones. He hasn’t decided what kind he will put in permanently, but they probably won’t be metal, he said.