Graveside flowers go missing

Published 5:27 pm Wednesday, May 28, 2008

As Memorial Day brings beautiful commemorative wreaths and flowers honoring those who’ve died in war, it can also bring thieves willing to remove them, causing distress to visiting friends and relatives and cemetery caretakers.

Dean Koontz, superintendent of Oakwood Cemetery, said he received calls as early as last Saturday about missing wreaths and plants, which began appearing en masse last week in preparation for the holiday.

“It’s definitely a bigger problem around Memorial Day,” Koontz said, adding that the problem persists year-round.

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“It’s unfortunate that those things happen,” he said. “I’d say in the last five to six years it’s gotten really bad.”

It’s a bit of a helpless issue for Koontz and other cemetery caretakers, who even using round-the-clock coverage of the acres of cemetery property still wouldn’t necessarily know who’s legitimately removing decorative items, and who is stealing them.

“I could stay out there, but I don’t know if the people have the authority to take it or not,” he said.

Koontz also said sometimes their removal is innocent; for instance, young children taking flowers from one grave to place on another.

Austin Police Chief Paul Philipp said his office doesn’t receive many reports of these types of thefts, but he encourages people to call if they discover items missing.

“Well, certainly they should call us,” he said. “If it’s happening to one person, it’s likely happening to others, so it would be good to let us know.”

Koontz said he expects these types of problems to continue until ground items are removed June 1 for mowing.

“It will get worse before it gets better,” he said.

He advised people to put distinctive markings on potted plants or wreaths if possible, such as one’s name.

“I would say that if they are going to put something out, if they could put their name on it,” Koontz suggested, adding that visitors could instead print the name of the person it’s honoring.

“There’s not much we can do,” he said.