by: Craig Lucie Updated:
DECATUR, Ga. - Decatur cemetery employees said vandals used spray paint and toothpaste to deface headstones before a Veterans Day ceremony.
More than 150 volunteers came to the cemetery Saturday to put American flags on the gravesites of veterans. In one case, the vandals took toothpaste and wrote racial slurs so the oils from the toothpaste would seep into the stone and it would be permanently damaged.
“The price of it (headstones) is priceless,” said Demetrius Whatley.
Whatley has worked to keep the Decatur Historic Cemetery beautiful for 10 years. It’s the oldest known publicly owned burial ground in metro Atlanta with headstones dating back to 1827 and before. More than 1,000 Soldiers from every war from the American Revolution to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were laid to rest there.
“Every veteran has a flag, and we had 150 volunteers come out to put out the flags,” said Whatley.
But Saturday instead of peacefully walking the grounds, they were welcomed with an ugly site.
“They arrived to find blue graffiti throughout the historic cemetery,” said Decatur’s Assistant City Manager David Junger.
Racial and sexual slurs covered pretty marble, a stone wall, the cemetery’s pathway and the historic gazebo. Paint remover couldn’t even cover the vandalism.
“It took me the longest to figure out what to use (cleaning fluids) because this is the first time since I’ve been here for vandalism like this to come on our property,” said Whatley.
Whatley showed Channel 2’s Craig Lucie another gravesite where he found a tube of toothpaste nearby. He said two weeks before Saturday, the vandals struck again and used toothpaste because they knew the oils would destroy a headstone from 1888.
“It is upsetting to come and see that somebody has come in and defaced and written inappropriate comments on walls. It’s disheartening,” said Junger.
Whatley said their beautiful cemetery has a great reputation that he plans to protect.
“I want to keep our cemetery beautiful. We work very hard to keep our cemetery clean and that’s the way I like to keep it,” said Whatley.
Decatur police said they found an empty spray paint can on the cemetery property. They said there was a clear fingerprint in paint on the can that they are running through their system. The Decatur community has already raised a few hundred dollars for a reward to catch the vandals.