When Stephanie Worthington got to work Monday morning, she was “shocked and appalled.”
The business manager at St. Andrew’s-St. James’ Cemetery in Orillia arrived to find dozens of headstones toppled after grounds crews alerted her to the vandalism.
“It was literally unbelievable until I actually arrived here and saw it. We felt numb,” she said Tuesday. “It’s unbelievable that people would even fathom to commit a crime like this and show such utter disrespect for the people who are resting here and their loved ones.”
Forty-three headstones were knocked over at the Coldwater Road cemetery sometime between Friday at 4:30 p.m. and Monday at 8 a.m.
Grounds crews did a sweep of the entire property and found the damage was mostly limited to the area near Coldwater Road and the fence line where the cemetery borders Emmanuel Baptist Church.
The granite stones fared better than the older, marble ones. Six of the 43 that were damaged are among the oldest stones in the cemetery.
“They’re broken into pieces,” Worthington said, adding some of those pieces were then thrown by the vandal(s).
The plan is to use stainless steel channelling to try to salvage the old stones.
There aren’t any cameras at the cemetery and the gates are always open. Closing the gates outside of business hours isn’t a step Worthington is willing to take at the moment. Even if she did, it wouldn’t be difficult for people to find a way in.
“It’s very challenging,” she said of deterring such criminal activity. “The fact that they did this so close to one of the busiest roads in Orillia — it’s nervy.”
It’s believed a group of vandals is behind the incident, given the number of headstones targeted and their weight. Some weighed nearly 1,000 pounds, Worthington noted.
Staff from Signature Memorials and Sanderson Monument helped reset the stones.
While vandalism at the cemetery isn’t unheard of, it is rare, Worthington said, “but to this degree is extremely troubling.”
The support from the community has been “incredible,” she said.
“People have been spreading the word, so hopefully that will help to find who did this.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Orillia OPP at 705-326-3536 or 1-888-310-1122. Tips can also be provided to Crime Stoppers at crimestopperssdm.com or 1-800-222-8477.