Historic headstones toppled and smashed at Sumner cemetery

Staff writerJanuary 31, 2014 

Workers from the City of Sumner restore headstones Friday in the Sumner Cemetery. Vandals toppled dozens of them overnight.

PETER HALEY — Staff photographer Buy Photo

More than 80 historic headstones were toppled in vandalism reported Friday in the pioneer section of the city-owned Sumner cemetery.

The cemetery’s two oldest headstones dating back to its opening in 1864 were among those damaged, said supervisor John Wells.

Several city workers put at least half of the headstones back in place Friday. They righted the granite and marble pieces and applied epoxy to reattach them.

Sumner police don’t have any firm suspects. But they do “have a couple leads they’re pursuing right now,” city spokeswoman Carmen Palmer said Friday.

Police don’t know how many vandals were involved. The damage occurred sometime between Thursday night and Friday morning. A neighbor saw the broken grave markers and called police around 6:25 a.m. Friday, Wells said.

The city is planning to celebrate the cemetery’s 150th anniversary on Aug. 15. Many of Sumner's pioneers are buried there.

Wells said the damage was worse than the last incident of vandalism at the cemetery in 2005.

“They were more destructive than they were in 2005,” he said.

In late 2005 and early 2006, two teenage boys were arrested and convicted after toppling 303 grave markers in the same pioneer section and causing up to $170,000 in damage.

The Sumner City Council decided in late 2005 to add night lighting at the cemetery in response to that vandalism. Those lights were on overnight Thursday, Wells said.

Wells said it was painful to see the headstones spread across the grounds of the cemetery at 12324 Valley Ave. E. Some had been smashed into graveside markers. One headstone was left outside the cemetery office.

“Most of them we should be able to repair,” Wells said.

Those repairs could take through Wednesday. Until then, Wells said, he won’t be able to estimate the value of the damage.

Palmer said the city deals with vandalism regularly, but the desecration of the cemetery strikes “a much deeper level” than something like a spray-painted stop sign.

“It’s tough to think somebody would do this to the memory of so many people and also to their families, if they have living families,” she said.

While the city is always looking at how to improve security and safety, “this incident definitely plays into that conversation,” Palmer said.

The challenge is to balance security with maintaining the cemetery as a “very welcoming, calming place,” she said.

“We’ll continue to work that balance and that challenge,” Palmer said.

Palmer asked anyone who saw anything or has any information connected to the incident to call the 24-hour Sumner police tip line at 253-299-5678.



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