By JEFF MARTIN
ATLANTA — Caretakers of one of Georgia’s oldest cemeteries say the scene was heart-breaking: A toddler’s bones were spilled on the ground. The uniform buried with a soldier in another plot was strewn on the ground.
Now, a reward of more than $2,000 is being offered for information on the desecration at the Old Church Cemetery, which dates to 1758 in the east Georgia countryside near Waynesboro.
Clothing buried with a soldier was removed, leaving his bones exposed, Burke County sheriff’s Sgt. Sean Cochran said. Relic hunting is a possible motive, he said, though authorities aren’t certain what the motivation was.
“Most of the time when soldiers were buried, they were buried with their items to keep the enemy soldiers from getting them,” Cochran said.
Leroy Bell Jr., commander of the American Legion post that cares for the cemetery, discovered the damage Saturday.
A small cast iron casket containing remains of 14-month Emma Jane McElmurray, buried in 1884, was removed and its contents dumped out, Bell said.
“They took it completely out and dumped everything out in the perimeter of the family plot,” Bell told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
“It was just total devastation,” he recalled. “I thought ‘why in God’s name could anybody could do anything like this?”’ he said. “I just can’t understand it, other than the fact they were wanting some kind of trinkets.”
Cochran said authorities don’t know what items were buried with the bodies, so they’re not sure what might have been stolen from the bodies and the graves.
All of the buttons had been removed from the military clothing left on the ground, which appeared to be a soldier’s uniform coat, Bell said.
Leaders of American Legion Post 120 are planning to rededicate the soldiers’ graves and restore the monuments that were damaged, Bell said.
“It’s just going to take a little time because we’re just a small American Legion here in Waynesboro and we don’t have that many members,” he said.