Families find coffins exposed, graves broken in cemetery

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VIOLET, La. -- Gary Singletary holds back tears talking about what he saw when he and his wife went to visit their daughter's burial site.

"It was horrible to see exposed coffins, to see remains laying about, to just feel like – what happens if we're gone for an extended period of time or we close our eyes? Will anyone even know where she is with so many missing headstones or markers? It's a horrible feeling, I wouldn't wish it on anyone," Gary Singletary said. 

Merrick Cemetery, which is also referred to as Merritt Cemetery, is operated by a nonprofit called the Merrick Cemetery Club. Upkeep of the vaults is the responsibility of each family according to Merrick Cemetery Club President Carol Brown.

Brown says the organization contacted families directly about upkeep issues in 2010, but not since then. She says the nonprofit is doing what it can, but the organization doesn't have the money to step in when other people drop the ball. The exposed and deteriorating coffins have been an issue since Hurricane Katrina.

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"There was no money from the government or FEMA to rebuild tombs, so it's up to the family to come and rebuild their tombs," Carol said. "I do believe some people are thinking it's our responsibility and we don't have money for that."

Regardless of the amount of funds available, people visiting their loved ones in the cemetery are upset about what they call “the lack of upkeep.”

Eddie Gilliam visited his mother's grave over the weekend and couldn’t believe what he saw.

"There was caskets everywhere, caskets all over the place," Gilliam said. "It's just a sad situation all the way around. It's sad for the individuals buried there, sad for the public itself."

Gary Singletary said it felt unnatural for him to bury his child and seeing the cemetery look so bad makes it even more painful.

"I don't have any control over it and I think that's the feeling that hurts the worst,” he said. “I'd give up everything to make sure no one ever comes through here and feels the way we felt when we walked through there.”

Brown says she is contacting families again and plans to have most of the issues cleaned up by the end of 2017.