MOODY, Texas (KWTX) A Bell County mother is heartbroken after finding mementos honoring her dead son in a garbage pile.
(Photo courtesy of Meloney Jefferson)
Meloney Jefferson thought her son Jace's grave was vandalized Tuesday, but it turns out, the move was approved by the Moody Cemetery Association's board of directors.
"Everything that's left on a loved one's grave means something to somebody, and I don't feel you have the right to consider that trash," said Jefferson.
Jefferson lost her 12-year-old son to brain cancer in 2016.
He made such an impact on the community, last year a baseball complex in Belton was named after him.
"I worked really hard with a company in Belton to build his headstone to represent him and baseball, and really identify him as a person and his legacy," said Jefferson.
Ever since his death, Jace's family has been visiting his grave site regularly, often bringing the baseball spirit with them by placing items related to the sport on his grave.
However, the cemetery threw Jefferson a curve ball by removing items, including a cross, from her dead son's grave without her knowledge or permission.
"I would have loved to be the one to move those things around or be able to take those things home and keep the, whereas now they're broken and destroyed," said Jefferson.
She says items from many other graves--but not all of them--were also removed and discarded in a pile.
"There were lots of kids' trucks and toys, and angels that didn't have heads anymore and didn't have wings, and broken crosses," said Jefferson.
Cemetery officials say, after years of being lenient, they're starting to crack down on rule violations.
"If it's not something that we stay on top of every month, somebody puts something out there, and someone else assumes they can put something else out there, and it just gets out of control," said Clydia Goodwin, the record keeper and board member for the Moody Cemetery Association.
Goodwin says the cemetery, which comprised of about 6,000 plots, is divided into two parts: the original section from the 1800s didn't have any restrictions, however, restrictions were added to the newer section when it opened up in the 1950s to make it more uniform and regulated.
Goodwin says they're simply enforcing the longtime policies they've been letting go for years.
"The heart and meat of the regulation was there should be nothing else besides the tombstone and a specified flower holder, but it has been relaxed over the years," said Goodwin. "They take cemeteries for granted, and they play no active part until something doesn't go the way they like and then they become infuriated."
According to the Texas Health and Safety Code, cemetery organizations can regulate things like markers and monuments only if the rules are "plainly printed or typed and maintained for inspection in the cemetery organization's office or another place in the cemetery prescribed by the directors."
The state code says the directors may penalize and take civil against for rule violations but doesn't mention anything about the removal of property.
"If that's what it says, then we have been in violation of it," said Goodwin. "We may have done wrong, but they have done wrong."
Goodwin says everyone gets a copy of the rules when they purchase a plot.
However, Jefferson says she never received one.
"I wasn't given these rules, plain and simple, I was just told 'no foot stones or pavers' or anything that would get in the way of a weed eater," said Jefferson. "I didn't realize that we had broken any rules."
Jefferson ran into the board member in charge of maintenance who was responsible for removing the items from the graves, Jerry Grable, when she went to salvage items Wednesday.
"They told me that I could read the policy and then pointed to the policy they had posted out there," said Jefferson.
She says the laminated copies of the policies, which had been placed on four posts in that section of the cemetery, were put up within the last week and weren't there when she last came to visit her son's grave on Easter.
Cemetery officials say people with questions about what's allowed should have contacted them.
"Every time I've been out there for four years it was fine, so if something's not wrong, of course I'm not going to ask something that I don't know is a problem," said Jefferson.
Any plots in violation of the rules should have been notified first, she says.
However, cemetery officials say they're a strictly volunteer organization with little to no help, and sending out individual notices would have taken a lot of time and effort
"It's not feasible for a voluntary, funds-limited organization to accomplish," said Goodwin.
Jefferson feels they should have made an attempt.
"Even a simple Facebook post or a mail out would have been better than what they did," said Jefferson. "If they needed help, I think people should have been able to have the option to help, and there's a far better way to get help, there's a far better way to go about it."
Hundreds agreed with Jefferson on social media by responding to a post she made on Facebook.
Thousands more have shown their support by electronically signing a petition on Change.org to get a public apology from the cemetery board of directors.
Goodwin told KWTX Wednesday evening she was sorry for how everything was handled.
"We're very sorry that it was so upsetting to people, but we've had very little help from the community to try to keep things like people would like them to be, and we're sorry it seemed to just hit like it did," said Goodwin.
Some have come forward saying it's not the entire board's fault.
"The rest of the board is going to take a black eye that they don't deserve for something this one guy did," one source said.
Goodwin said the board would probably try to address some things a little differently moving forward.