CALCUTTA - The discovery of items reportedly stolen from Columbiana County Memorial Park at a home in Wellsville this week has prompted many people to question the policies regarding the wreaths, statues, decorations and other memorial items commonly left at grave sites.
Linda Ferello, administrative secretary at the cemetery in Calcutta, admitted that she has been inundated with phone calls since word of the stolen items became news on Friday, with concerns expressed regarding the cemetery's policies.
Ferello emphasized that when a person buys a burial plot, legal ownership of that small parcel of land transfers from the cemetery to that individual. At the time of that purchase, she said, the transfer of responsibility is made explicit to the buyer.
In case that message is not initially received, there are three signs within Columbiana County Memorial Park itself that offer such warnings. "Please note the cemetery is not responsible for your flowers or grave decorations," reads the sign at the entrance.
Given that transfer of ownership, cemeteries are not legally liable for incidents that may occur at the grave site, including the theft of items that families or other loved ones may choose to leave there. "I did not buy what was on the grave," Ferello said. "Therefore, I'm not responsible legally for that."
One anonymous mourner visiting family members at the Memorial Park said that when she reported items stolen from those graves to cemetery management, they assisted her with information in attempting to find the culprit. She also said that the open, sprawling acreage of cemeteries makes it very hard to control such behavior.
Ferello says that the cemetery's groundskeepers record the license plate number of a vehicle when they witness suspicious behavior from a visitor, such as removing an item from a grave. Turning that information over to police has led to prosecutions for theft, she said.
Another sign at the cemetery's entrance says that the gates are locked every night at 6 p.m. "We protect our families the best we can," Ferello said. She also stressed that thefts occur at cemeteries across the country and are not exclusive to the Memorial Park.
The anonymous mourner shared a tip that she has made a practice of anytime she plans to leave items at the cemetery. She has taken to writing her name or initials in permanent marker on the bottom of those items, making them easier to trace if another theft should occur.