Families upset after city of Pahokee removes decorations from graves

Posted at 7:56 PM, Sep 23, 2016

Crosses, flowers, flags and figurines are items commonly found on graves, but not in the Port Mayaca Cemetery anymore.

With the hire of a new cemetery manager, city leaders say it was decided that rules that hadn't been implemented in years would begin being enforced. The rules state that graves can't have anything on them but vases with flowers.

City workers began removing all other items from the graves a couple of weeks ago. They didn't notify families of those buried in the cemetery, however.

"There's some things my daughters had made and put up here, little notes that they had left for their brother, and it just really hurts," said Lewis Pope whose son, daughter, brother and father are buried in the Port Mayaca Cemetery.

He says next of kin should have been informed.

"To me, it's desecration of graves," Pope said. "This is hallowed ground, and truthfully, that's grave robbing."

Pahokee City Manager Chandler Williamson says the cemetery didn't have the records necessary to contact families of those buried there. He admits, however, that a notice should have been posted online ahead of time.

"Those things are precious to the family members, and that communication was not as fluid as it should have been when we collected the items from the grave sites," Williamson said. "We realize that caused a bit of misunderstanding."

Many of the items taken off of the graves were thrown away and won't be recovered. But some were placed on a trailer in the back of the cemetery. They can still be claimed by family members.

The city of Pahokee held a special meeting to apologize to families affected. The city is also working on putting together an advisory committee which will be able to recommend changes to the cemetery's manager. Williamson says the committee will likely look at changing the current rules to allow more than just flowers on the graves.

Applications for advisory committee members are being accepted at Pahokee City Hall.