Sabrina Covington is devastated after learning that the decorations and family mementos she left at the grave site of her mother and grandmother are gone.

“I just think it’s a shame,” Covington said, fighting back tears. “We were taught to respect the dead when we were kids, and they didn’t respect our family members at all.”

Visitors at the Bethesda Cemetery in Morristown can find benches left by the roadside and even flowers and statues thrown around.

“They basically just took everything off all the graves – benches, flowers,” Covington said. “When we signed our contracts, we asked them about putting things on the grave and they told us we had a right to do anything we wanted to as long as it was nice, neat and clean.”

The trustees of the cemetery said board members voted in October to give the area a much needed cleanup, even posting signage at every entrance to let people know that any unapproved items would be removed at the end of March. 

“Over $100,000 has been spent on the cemetery for much needed improvements and maintenance issues that have arisen over the years,” trustee member Denise Terry said in a statement. “The majority of the 2000 plot owners have contributed and supported these efforts and been involved in these efforts. All plot owners are invited and encouraged to participate in efforts to preserve the historic gem. The action that was taken October 1, 2017, was needed to protect all owners of the plots at Bethesda and the cemetery.”

But some families with loved ones buried there said the signs were too small to see, and they were not properly notified of the changes. 

“I was just here four days ago and I wasn’t paying attention to a little sign that’s this big. Who would see a sign this big?” Covington said. 

Decorations left behind are now in the trash, with loved ones no longer able to claim the items. 

“There is no amount of money in the world that could replace anything that belonged to my mother or my grandmother, and to show so much disrespect for people and their life and what they meant to people,” Veronica McCoy said. “There’s nothing they do in my heart to replace what they’ve done.”

Garbage bags with American flags can be seen beside graves, with other rubble piled near trees.

“In my opinion it’s ridiculous that they remove this and take it away from us,” Randy Hart, who has a three-month old son buried in the cemetery, said. “When we purchased these spots, there was nothing saying we couldn’t do this and then without contacting any family members, they come in and just disrupt these resting areas. It’s really aggravating.”

The cleanup has left Covington and others wondering why it happened and how to replace all that was lost.

“Some of those things meant stuff to some of us and they didn’t have a right to deface our property,” she said. “It’s not fair.”

The cemetery board of trustees showed WATE 6 On Your Side an example deed for plots at Bethesda. They said it is what every owner received and it includes a provision for enforcing rules and regulations on the cemetery grounds.

Two families told WATE they had never seen it before.

As for those benches placed on the roadside, the board said the reason those benches were left there is so that owners can come and pick them up.