Vandals, thieves keep targeting city's most sacred cemeteries, group says

Vandals, thieves keep targeting city's most sacred cemeteries, group says

At the edge of the French Quarter, a daily ritual unfolds as groups of people solemnly stroll through St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 - many of them awestruck as they wind through the maze of centuries-old tombs and shrines.

"It's just phenomenal as you walk around and you see all the beautiful mausoleums," said Helen Fahrer of Olympia, Wash.

Tour guide Cindy Cochran calls it one of her favorite places on earth.

"There is so much spirit and history here," she said. "The stories behind some of these tombs are amazing."

But some believe the sanctity of this final resting place is under attack by a mix of thieves, vandals and even gawkers.

"There's just been this rampant breaking in of these tombs. Removing a brick, a lot of people stick their cell phones in to take pictures of remains," said Amanda Walker, executive director of the non-profit group Save Our Cemeteries.

According to Walker, it's a problem for several of the city's sacred burial sites. Over the past few months, she's been documenting the damage and working toward solutions.

"Lafayette No. 2 has 19 open vaults, currently. Valence Street is pretty bad," she said. "It's an emergency situation. We're going to seal these tombs up in as many cemeteries as we can."

This past weekend, a local photographer snapped a shot of human remains strewn across the ground at St. Louis No. 1. We showed the photo to Cochran, who said she's seen plenty of violations during her visits as a tour guide.

"That's horrible and we do need more security here," she said.

On Tuesday, Sarah McDonald, the communications director for the Archdiocese of N.O. which governs St. Louis No. 1 and some other cemeteries, issued this statement:

"The Archdiocese of New Orleans is definitely concerned about issues of vandalism and desecration at our cemeteries. We have and will continue to take steps to preserve and protect these sacred spaces now and into the future. New security cameras have been installed and other security measures are being taken. We will work with the authorities anytime criminal activity takes place."

The Save Our Cemeteries group says the struggle to repair the tombs is seemingly endless.

"As soon as something gets sealed up, there's another one opened," Walker said, before directing her comments toward the offenders and anyone who happens to witness one of the destructive crimes. "Think about if it was your family member before you do something like this, and if you see something like this, just call the cops, call us. Just stop it," she said. "It's vandalism, it's illegal, it's disrespectful and morally, I think it's just horrible."

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