ENFIELD— A detailed cleaning of a cemetery has left family members and loved ones of those buried at the Hazardville Cemetery upset over the decision.
Jeff Buckley, the Enfield Cemetery Association Superintendent, says his crew was performing a thorough cleaning of the gravesites in the cemetery to determine which ones were still being maintained by family members.
According to Buckley, the last cleaning occurred more than six years ago. Buckley says he gave notice to people in the local newspaper, the Enfield Register, but many say they were left in the dark and no idea the cleaning was taking place.
“I’m not even sure what to say, how to put into words the personal items that are here are not recovered,” said Kathy Johnson.
Kathy and Lou Johnson never thought anyone would bother the grave site of their son, Phillip, a marine lance corporal laid to rest in 2006 at Hazardville Cemetery after being killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
But the unthinkable happened, as the family had to recover items from his grave site, such as flags, his military dog tags and other items from a pile created by the Enfield Cemetery Association after the cleaning of the cemetery.
“We had Marine Corps flags. We had U.S. flags. We found staffs laying on the ground,” Johnson said.
Buckley says clearing certain items not permitted near the gravesites allowed for better maintenance of the cemetery, especially grave sites no longer being maintained by the families.
The cleared items were put into a pile at one end of the cemetery to allow families a chance to reclaim them, but many family members had trouble retrieving all of their items.
“We didn’t expect this. We never had a problem in 14 years that we’ve been here,” said Amy Mason, of Enfield.
Amy Mason re-arranges the decorations on her brother’s grave site each year on the anniversary of his death, April 1, 2000. Two weeks ago, Mason and her family re-arranged the decorations for the 14th anniversary, but crews cleaned up the tribute.
“Everything, including little rocks that were on the stone, to angels and plaques, everything,” Mason said.
Many say they are upset mostly because of a lack of communication. The notification in the Enfield Register was not seen by those we spoke with.
Enfield Mayor Scott Kaupin says he found out about the cleaning only after items were removed from his twin brother’s grave site at the cemetery.
Kaupin has posted pictures and has given updates on the Hazardville Cemetery cleaning process on his Facebook account. Many say the mayor’s announcements were the first time they were made aware of the cleaning.
“You can’t pick up the phone and call someone and say, ‘Hey listen, come get your stuff’? It might not be sentimental to them, not esthetically pleasing to them, but it meant something to those buried here,” said Debbie Kruzel, an Enfield resident who was trying to locate items for her friend, who had lost her long-time husband five years ago.
The cemetery says it has clearly outlined its rules and prohibits certain items near the sites, but many family members say the rules were never enforced.
“No one is saying they don’t have the right to maintain their cemetery as they see fit, but a little communication goes a long way,” said Lou Johnson, the father of Phillip Johnson, buried at Hazardville Cemetery.
Mayor Kaupin says town officials will meet with the superintendent and other cemetery association members to talk about what happened and how it can be prevented in the future.