Zephyrhills, Fla. -- Deputies are investigating a disturbing and ghoulish crime in Pasco County.
They’re looking for what may be suspected grave robbers after a pair of graves were desecrated sometime last week at the Crystal Springs Cemetery in Zephyrhills.
For Jack Flanagan, the whole thing is very personal. Flanagan was the one who found the two desecrated graves when he came out to Crystal Springs Cemetery last week, where he volunteers to cut the grass.
“I know every inch of this ground,” said Flanagan, whose own wife Sharon is among those buried here.
“That was the first thing on my mind,” said Flanagan. “I went back over to check hers right over there, and everything was fine.”
Pasco Deputies found a four-foot deep hole next to an unmarked grave. They also found a stone cover had been removed from another. To see the deputy's body-cam video of the incident, click here.
There are signs this wasn't just a random act of vandalism.
“I think it was theft,” said long-time resident Jack Malarkey. “I think they thought they had money in there. And they were going to get it. And I thought that they could get away with it, because not too many people come out here.”
Deputies agree. Sgt. Zak Arey says it’s the first case of its kind he’s seen in more than 20 years of detective work. He’s determined to make an arrest before whoever did this strikes again.
“I mean, these are somebody's loved ones,” said Arey. “This is a sacred place where they've chosen to lay them, and it's not acceptable for somebody to be committing these acts upon these grave sites.”
There was another incident at Crystal Springs Cemetery back in the mid-1980s when someone collected all the headstones and for some reason threw them into the nearby woods.
The people who live nearby got together, found the headstones, and put them back in place in the cemetery as best they could.
But this was different.
“We haven't ever had the gravesites violated like this,” said Cindie Cornelius, who manages the cemetery as head of the local community association.
For close to a hundred years, the two-and-a-half acre site has been a final resting place for Crystal Springs residents.
It’s located down a dirt road, in an area so remote it doesn't even have an address.
That’s why Cornelius thinks whoever did this had to be local.
“The only thing we can figure, like everybody else figures,” said Cornelius, “is they were looking for jewelry on bodies, maybe. Or maybe it was a prank or a dare.”
Pasco detectives say they found some empty cans at the scene. A rope and what looks like truck tracks.
On the community's Facebook page, hundreds have been reacting to the news, calling it “sick", “horrible". One person wrote: "The deceased cannot even rest in peace."
“You're supposed to be able to rest in peace,” said Flanagan, “And they definitely did not let them rest in peace.”
Deputies say whoever did this faces up to five years behind bars for merely disturbing a grave, which is considered a third-degree felony.
But if it turns out anything inside was disturbed or taken from those graves it’s considered a second-degree felony carrying up to 15 years in prison.
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