ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Family members have been heading out to a St. Petersburg cemetery to check on their loved ones’ graves.
That’s because investigators say more than 125 headstones were damaged when the brass vase fixtures attached to them were stolen.
A 31-year-old man in St. Petersburg is accused of taking more than 125 bronze vases from cemetery plots over the course of two days in July and then selling them. It happened at The Memorial Park Funeral Home on 49th Street North in St. Pete.
“It just breaks my heart people have to do that,” cemetery visitor Sherry Forbes said.
Douglas Deck was arrested and charged with four counts of dealing in stolen property, one county of damage or removal of tomb or monument and one count of possession of a controlled substance on July 23, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office wrote in a news release
Detectives from the sheriff's office said from July 12 through July 13, more than 125 bronze vases were removed from the plots at the cemetery. Investigators say they got tipped off by a local scrap yard where the vases had apparently been taken for the value of the material.
Those vases were attached to concrete headstones throughout the cemetery for flowers and ornamental decorations, the sheriff's office said.
“I would’ve never thought of somebody doing that,” Forbes said. “But in this day and age, I guess people are getting to that point and it's sad though because it is a sacred spot for me, for other people out here.”
The stolen vases were retrieved on July 21. Detectives say they responded to a local scrap metal yard and found 124 of them.
"Through various investigative techniques, detectives were able to identify Deck as the subject who sold the vases to the scrap yard for a total payout of approximately $1149.60," the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.
In total, investigators said the removal of the vases resulted in a total loss of about $150,000. But the emotional toll is far harder to measure.
“Because it’s a part of you. It’s a part of them. It’s a part of where they rest in peace,” Forbes said. “And to take that away it’s just sad.”
Upon Deck's arrest, detectives said he was also in possession of .25 grams of fentanyl. He was booked into the Pinellas County Jail.
The Sheriff’s Office says this is still an open investigation, so if you or someone you know may have been affected – you’re asked to give them a call.