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Viola area vandalism reward at $2,000; investigation continues

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tombstones knocked down during a Dec. 25 vandalism spree are standing again at the Viola Cemetery, but the Fulton County Sheriff's Department continues to search for the vandals. A reward fund has grown to $2,000. The same culprits are also believed responsible for break-ins at several rural churches and damage to the Mt. Calm Cemetery. Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
The reward for Christmas Day cemetery and church vandalism in the Viola area has risen to $2,000.

Sheriff Buck Foley has issued a new appeal for information that will lead to an arrest and conviction of those responsible, and a reminder that a reward remains unclaimed.

"We got some leads to pursue early on," Foley said, "and we are continuing to get calls but, so far, we have not got the information we need to solve the case."

Late afternoon on Dec. 25, a person who went to visit a grave at the Viola Cemetery discovered that a number of tombstones had been tipped over and vandalized, along with vases, statues and other items left to honor the dead.

That night and for two more days, the Sheriff's Department received calls about break-ins and vandalism at the Viola First Baptist Church, Wild Cherry Baptist Church, Hebron Church, Mt. Pisgah Church and the Mt. Calm Missionary Church and cemetery. A house was also broken into, and equipment at a gravel company near Mitchell was vandalized.

According to Sheriff Foley, damage at the Viola Cemetery alone was estimated at $15,000.

Families and churches have been cleared by investigators to repair the damage.

"We have taken pictures, made diagrams and obtained estimates to document the damage, for use when these cases are prosecuted," said Foley.

According to Viola Mayor Jackie Estes, a company has been working to upright tombstones and secure them back in place.

On Dec. 26, Estes, acting in behalf of the city of Viola, offered a $1,000 reward to help the Sheriff's Department investigation.

Since that time, the official reward has grown to $2,000.

On Thursday, Jan. 13, a radio station and a television station reported that the reward fund had reached $7,000.

"We have received $2,000 in cash," Estes explained. "Others have made pledges that are in reserve, if we need them."

According to the Sheriff, every tip or lead is being pursued, and no one has called specifically hoping to collect the reward.

"Most people who are giving information want to remain anonymous," said Foley. "A lot of them live in the area where the vandalism occurred, and are passing on information about someone they suspect might be involved."

Foley added deputies are spending as much time in the Viola area as possible during night-time hours, looking for suspicious activity and making traffic stops, in hopes of obtaining new leads.

On Wednesday, Jan. 4, State Highway Officer Shad Overman made a traffic stop on Highway 62 in Viola. Overman said in an affidavit for an arrest warrant, "The vehicle was stopped due to a traffic violation and suspicious activity coming from Viola cemetery."

During the stop, an occupant, David Way, was apprehended after attempting to flee, and another occupant, Amy Pruitt, was found to be in possession of a drug, which "field tested positive for methamphetamine."

Pruitt was charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance, Methamphetamine, and Way was arrested for active warrants from Baxter County.

According to Sheriff Foley, those suspects have not been connected to the vandalism and break-ins.

"We hope the reward being offered will continue to bring in leads," Foley said. "People can call the office at any time. We are running down every lead we get."

The number of the Fulton County Sheriff's Department is: 895-2601.

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