AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The devastation over how the rules are being enforced in Austintown’s cemeteries was vocalized during Monday evening’s board of trustees meeting.
Around 50 people packed the room, calling for accountability. Many shared emotional stories of how they found their loved ones’ gravesites desecrated, torn apart or covered with lawn clippings, some even as recently as Monday afternoon.
“When I drive through that cemetery now, that cemetery feels like death,” said Richard Fink, a concerned citizen.
Voices shaking, eyes welled up with tears — one by one, Austintown residents took the podium during the meeting.
“I’m deeply saddened, heartbroken and, quite frankly, disgusted,” Lorraine Reynolds-Federovitch said.
They’re devastated over how their loved ones’ gravesites at Four Mile Run and Brunstetter cemeteries have been treated and how they say the rules for the grounds are now being enforced.
Less than a week ago, families reported that township road crews had removed flags, edgings and decorative stones from gravesites.
According to the township’s most recent rules and regulations document, the township “retains control and supervision of all lots … and it will be the duty of the township to prohibit, modify or remove and structure, object or adornment” that violates the rules laid out in the rest of the document.
Some say they weren’t even properly notified before the decorations were removed — instead, they found a letter in a sandwich bag zip-tied to their loved ones’ headstones.
“Whose brilliant idea was this? And, might I add, not every grave received one of those — therefore, not everyone was notified of the rule change,” Reynolds-Federovitch said. “This was callous and unprofessional at best.”
Chris Terlesky’s mother is buried at Four Mile Run Cemetery. He says the items he had at his mother’s grave were destroyed, and he shared photos with the trustees.
“You’re talking to a bunch of old-school people here that take this to heart,” Terlesky said.
“My father was a proud man. I watched that man battle to be respected,” Fink said. “To see him disgraced — not only the way his marker has been disgraced, but numerous other headstones covered and caked in grass, to the point where you can’t read them.”
“My husband would be rolling over in his grave if he knew he was being disrespected,” said another concerned resident.
Of the three trustees, Robert Santos was the most vocal. He apologized to residents multiple times throughout the meeting, asking his fellow trustees to hold a meeting for those upset about the cemetery rule enforcement.
“I would hope it would be a round table discussion with us three, and the residents can have their input as well,” Santos said.
Following an executive session, the trustees decided to hold a special meeting for residents to come and talk to them about the cemetery rules and regulations. The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 9.