Police arrest 1, seek 2 more in Berryville cemetery vandalism

Friday, September 19, 2014

One suspect is in custody and the Berryville Police Department has arrest warrants for two others in the vandalism of Berryville Memorial Cemetery the weekend of Aug. 30.

Samuel Watts, 21, of Berryville, turned himself in Wednesday morning.

Arrest warrants were issued Tuesday for Watts and the two other suspects.

Berryville police did not release Watts' name or those of the other suspects. Watts' name was listed on the intake log at the Carroll County Detention Center on Sept. 17. He was booked on destruction of a cemetery.

Detective Daniel Crawford said officers obtained the arrest warrants after receiving information identifying the suspects.

"We got some information that these three individuals were involved and began investigating that lead," Crawford said. "It was pretty conclusive that they did it."

Crawford thanked the citizens of Berryville for their assistance in the investigation.

The City of Berryville offered a $500 reward for any information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the vandalism after the incident occurred. Crawford initially deduced that the vandalism occurred between 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 29, and 1 a.m. the next morning.

"I spoke with some people who normally walk out there in the evenings. We know one of them was there at 8 p.m., and the tombstones hadn't been turned over yet," he said.

Another Berryville police officer discovered the vandalism roughly five hours later. Now that the investigation has progressed, Crawford has concluded that the vandalism occurred on the evening of Aug. 29.

After the damage was discovered, Mayor Tim McKinney called Danny Inman of the Cemetery Commission, who gathered members of the Berryville Fire Department to clean up the area.

Fire Chief Shannon Chester, along with volunteer firefighters Mike Jones and Heath Worley, immediately began standing up fallen tombstones and placing broken tombstone parts back together.

"We decided to see who all could show up so that we could straighten the tombstones up the best we could," Chester said, noting that Worley provided a backhoe and Jones provided an excavator.

"There were several stones overturned and some of them were broken, too. We just put back what we could," Chester said.

Inman praised the efforts of the fire department, saying the cemetery looked "100 percent better" after the firefighters' work.

"I can't even understand somebody that would do something like that," Inman said.

Crawford echoed Inman's statement, saying "a lot of people go out" to the cemetery.

"There's a lot of people upset about it," Crawford said. "The tombstones technically belong to family members, and some of these tombstones are over 100 years old. Everybody we ran across has been upset and distraught over this."

"It's a bad situation for sure," Chester said. "Most people have family that are buried in that cemetery."

The Berryville community reacted to the vandalism with "the kind of shock felt when something devoid of any purpose happens," said Berryville resident Kevin Wright.

Wright said that the act made him realize "how quickly so much good effort could be reversed in a few minutes."

"Many of the graves have been taken care of meticulously for decades," he said. "We all know the names and family members associated with those headstones. That, by itself, made it personal to many of us," he said.

Wright called the fire department's response "a huge lift, quick and sincere."

Fred West, whose family's tombstones were vandalized, also expressed gratitude to the fire and police departments for their effort following the vandalism.

"It's very disturbing and very upsetting when this kind of thing happens, but when it's family it's even more so," he said.

West's aunt and uncle's tombstone, as well as his great-grandparents' tombstone, was vandalized. A large celtic cross was completely broken off his aunt and uncle's stone. He noted that, regardless of who the stone belongs to, "it's a terrible shame that this kind of thing was done."

"I told people that I did a lot of stupid things when I was a kid and still manage to pull some stupid things every now and then," he said. "... but something like that I just don't understand."

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