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$1,000 Reward offered after vandalism spree in Viola area

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pushed-over tombstones and broken vases are examples of widespread damage left by vandals on Christmas Day at the Viola Cemetery. The same suspects also broke into five rural churches and vandalized the Mt. Calm Cemetery. The city of Viola is offering a $1,000 reward for information that will help the Sheriff's Department make arrests in the case. Photos by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
The Fulton County Sheriff's Department is investigating a Christmas Day outbreak of vandalism at rural cemeteries and churches, at Mount Calm and between Viola and Bexar, in western Fulton County.

"We need to get this stopped, because it's ridiculous," Viola Mayor Jackie Estes told The News, as he offered a reward to help with the police investigation.

"The city (Viola) is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of these vandals," Estes said. Estes also invited individuals and organizations to contribute to the reward fund.

"The strange thing is, most of this happened on Christmas Day, during day light hours," said Sheriff Buck Foley.

According to Foley, people leaving flowers on a grave discovered major vandalism at the Viola Cemetery, about 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 25. Because another person visited the cemetery late Christmas morning, it appears the Viola incidents occurred between noon and 6:30 p.m.

"Numerous headstones were damaged along with a marble bench, statues and vases," Foley said, of Viola Cemetery damage.

That was just the start of vandalism and burglary complaints that began coming into the Sheriff's Department.

"It looks like they (the vandals) broke into the Viola First Baptist Church, then vandalized the Viola Cemetery and continued on down (Highway) 223," said Foley. "A house on 223 South was broken into, as were the Wild Cherry Baptist Church, the Hebron Church, and Mt. Pisgah Church."

The Viola First Baptist break-in was not discovered until Wednesday morning. A laptop computer and electronic keyboard were damaged in that burglary.

"In the break-ins, they just wandered around the churches opening drawers and doors, apparently looking for cash or other valuables," Foley said. Church windows were broken to gain entry, and, in some instances, paint and other substances were used to vandalize the interiors.

A sign marking the "Hebron Church and Cemetery" was defaced with spray paint.

Equipment at a gravel pit near Mitchell was also damaged by vandals, apparently on Christmas Day.

On Wednesday, Dec. 28, it was discovered that the Mt. Calm Church and Cemetery, south of Viola, had also suffered vandalism damage.

While there were a few headstones tipped over and other damage to the cemetery, the vandals spent a lot of time trashing the inside of the Mt. Calm Missionary Church.

A bucket of white paint was thrown down the aisle between pews, splashing paint on the pews. The minister's podium was tipped over, a railing in front of the podium was knocked down and other furnishing were broken and scattered at the front of the church.

Dale and Kay Talbert of Viola stopped to view the damage, while on their way to check on whether a nearby cemetery on Dale's family farm had been disturbed.

"They just renovated this old building a couple of years ago," said Dale. "This (the vandalism) doesn't make any sense.

Kay was asked by a KY3 Television reporter covering the story, if she was surprised that such large scale church and cemetery vandalism could happen in a small town like Viola.

"In the past we've had some rowdy teenagers, but nothing like this. The community is very upset about this. This is a tight knit community," Kay said.

Kay added she expected the reward fund to grow, as she knows people anxious to contribute to it.

"I came here when I heard the (Viola) cemetery had been vandalized," said one man on Monday, Dec. 26, as he pointed out two vases that had been broken off of the base of his grandmother's grave stone.

At another nearby grave, the top of a small, artificial Christmas tree peeked out from under a fallen headstone. Small glass ornaments were scattered on the ground around it.

The headstone was large and heavy and took some work to push over, since markers are well secured to their bases.

"I know people, especially kids, don't have much respect for anything. But to do something like this at a cemetery, that's just terrible," the man sadly said.

Mayor Estes said he had been told the Viola Cemetery had suffered an estimated $15,000 damage.

At least 12 grave markers were tipped over, and vases attached to markers were broken off, some smashed against other grave stones.

In a corner of the cemetery, a peaceful sitting area developed by the DeShazo family was torn up. The top of a marble bench had been broken loose and thrown into the cemetery. A large sculpture of an angel and a bust of a soldier were torn up and destroyed, the debris scattered around the sitting area.

A stone historical marker noting that, in 1877, H.W. Cook was the first person buried in the Viola Cemetery was smashed into four pieces.

Mayor Estes said that there have been episodes of vandalism in the Viola area over the years, including some at the Viola Cemetery, but "nothing to the extent we've seen this time."

Some people have supplied information about a vehicle and two "scruffy" young men they saw on Christmas Day, along the area where the incidents occurred.

Because of the extent of the damage, those responsible will likely face felony charges when apprehended.

The Sheriff's Department is continuing to investigate, and anyone with information about the vandalism spree is asked to contact the Fulton County Sheriff's office at 895-2601.

Contributions to increase the reward fund can be made by contacting Mayor Jackie Estes at 458-2914.

Estes said he cannot imagine adults engaging in such senseless vandalism, so he believes "kids" are involved in the crimes.

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This is age discrimination at it's very finest and such biased opinions should not be reported as 'news'. I'm supposing Mayor Estes was never a kid himself, or made unwise decisions as an adult. I hope he loses the 18-24 year old voting demographic in his next campaign.

-- Posted by frenchie19 on Fri, Jan 6, 2012, at 12:42 AM

sorry, frenchie19, it's not age discrimination. its just statistics. Grown adults with jobs and lives don't trample through cemeteries in broad daylight tearing shit up. Teenagers do. Or really high young adults.

-- Posted by conventional1 on Wed, Jan 11, 2012, at 3:41 PM

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