Local News

Families upset after flowers removed from graves in Duplin cemetery

Posted March 18, 2016 6:56 p.m. EDT

— The owner of a company that manages a Duplin County cemetery apologized Friday after learning that all flowers had been removed from graves in the cemetery.

Families complained in recent days about empty vases on grave markers at Devotional Gardens cemetery in Warsaw.

"It’s sad," said Linda Jones, whose mother and brother are buried at Devotional Gardens. "You drive by here, you used to see flowers. If they were faded, they were faded. But now it’s empty."

"I think it’s disrespectful," Karen Whaleyhouse said. "This is a cemetery. It’s a place where we show respect to people we loved. If you’d seen all the flowers, you would see these people were loved."

Some people found the flowers in a trash bin at the cemetery, which upset them even more.

"It truly feels like someone walked into your home and took your belongings right in front of your face," said Latasha Moore, whose parents and grandmother are buried in the cemetery.

"At least what they could’ve done is send us a letter and let them come and remove them ourselves," Evelyn West said.

Bill Gaffney, the owner of Citadel Management LLC in Greenville, S.C., which manages the cemetery, said families usually are notified each spring to change out seasonal flowers and clean up grave sites. He said the on-site manager has been on the job only a few weeks and didn't do that, and maintenance crews were then "overly aggressive."

"We absolutely made a mistake," Gaffney said, adding that he planned to travel to Warsaw next week to personally apologize to families.

The on-site manager, Tammy Brown, hung up when contacted by a WRAL News reporter and later called Warsaw police to order the reporter and photographer off cemetery property.

People have started bringing new flowers to the cemetery to decorate their relatives' graves, but they said the heartache from this incident could linger a while.

"These flowers aren’t cheap. Even if it was just a rose in a vase, it’s what we could afford," Whaleyhouse said.