The recent vandalism of Elizabeth Chapel Cemetery has left many Vernon Parish residents asking who and why. Few however want the answers to those questions more than Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft.
“I’m related to most everybody buried here," Craft said while visiting the cemetery Wednesday morning. “My great grandfather is buried right over there," he gestured with his right hand as he made his way past the overturned and crushed gravestones.
An act of vandalism caused damage to 22 graves at the historically significant cemetery during the evening hours of December 29.
Authorities were made aware of the incident by a witness who was driving by the cemetery and reported seeing two male subjects. Deputies from the Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Office (VPSO) were dispatched and an investigation was promptly opened.
As Craft surveyed the violent damage to the cemetery, he expressed his department’s desire to apprehend those responsible. “We are following every lead. We have deputies going from door to door right now questioning residents," he said. Leads that are shared with VPSO via social media are also being pursued.
Walking through Elizabeth Cemetery, Craft stopped at a number of the desecrated graves and shared stories about some, and his relationship to them. He picked up a large piece of a child’s shattered headstone. "This would’ve been my father’s uncle,” Craft said.
Many of the headstones in the cemetery were lifted and propelled onto and at other grave markers by the vandals. The headstone of Ellender R. Craft, Sheriff Craft's great grandmother, was among those destroyed. “Why would someone do this?" Craft asked as he gathered the fragmented granite from her monument.
Vernon Parish Tourism Director John Crook is also among the many Vernon Parish residents who have ancestors buried in the cemetery. "Many of Vernon Parish’s first elected officials are buried here,” he said. Crook mentioned Louisiana State Representative Mark McAlpin, Sheriff William H. Moore, and Clerk of Court Zachary Taylor Craft. The latter being the great grandfather of Sheriff Sam Craft.
Efforts are already in motion to restore the damaged monuments, Crook said. He has been communicating with a restoration specialist.
Crook encourages all survivors who have family buried in the cemetery to follow the progress on the Elizabeth Chapel Cemetery Restoration Facebook page.
In addition to updates on the restoration, the Facebook page provides information for anyone who wishes to make monetary donations.
Donations will be used to repair a 130-year-old fence that was damaged and to purchase surveillance cameras for this and other historic cemeteries in the parish.
Both Craft and Crook remind the public that a reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person or persons responsible for this damage. To make a report regarding this incident, contact VPSO at 337-238-1311, Detective Jerry Twyman at 337-238-7248, or Crime Stoppers at 337-239-2233.
Calls can remain anonymous by request.