Vandals hit historic cemetery just before Veterans Day service

Vandals spraypainted offensive words and images throughout the Decatur City Cemetery just hours before volunteers arrived to place American flags beside the graves.

Police were called to the Bell Street cemetery shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday after city employees arrived to find the blue spray-painted graffiti, according to the police department. With headstones dating back to 1827, more than 1,000 soldiers were laid to rest here, and volunteers arrived early Saturday to place the flags in time for Sunday’s ceremony honoring veterans.

A gazebo, a nearby wall, the roadway, a sewage drain and walkways were all targeted in the 54-acre cemetery, a portion of which is included in the National Register of Historic Places. Cemetery workers were able to wash away some of the damage before officers arrived.

It’s the second time in a month the cemetery has been targeted, but a 10-year employee at the cemetery says the most recent vandalism is the worst he’s seen.

“It took me the longest to figure out what to use because this is the first time since I’ve been here for vandalism like this to come on our property,” Demetrius Whatley told Channel 2 Action News. “It is upsetting to come and see that somebody has come in and defaced and written inappropriate comments on walls. It’s disheartening. We work very hard to keep our cemetery clean and that’s the way I like to keep it.”

Workers used paint remover to scrub portions of the graffiti, but some of the damage was still visible Monday afternoon. Whatley said the vandals previously used toothpaste, which can permanently damage the historic stone.

Officers were able to locate a can of spray paint that appeared to be recently discarded and still had a price tag, according to police. Investigators plan to check the can for possible fingerprints.

A community group is offering a reward for information on those responsible for the vandalism.

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