NEW HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- The theft of flowers from a veteran’s grave in Rockland County has spurred a three-pronged battle plan to prevent future acts of vandalism -- including making it a felony.
Three bouquets -- and their holders -- were swiped from Ronald Croci’s final resting place at the Frederick Loescher Veterans Cemetery in New Hempstead, his daughter Cheryl wrote in a GoFundMe.com post.
The first set of flowers had been placed there on Friday, Aug. 12, by Cheryl Croci’s daughter. When the family went back two days later, on Ronald Croci’s birthday, the flowers were gone.
They placed two more bouquets on the grave. These, too, were taken, Croci said.
Croci said her mother, Bernadette, is not only devastated over the loss of her husband, but was badly shaken up by the thefts.
“My mom stood at the grave today, not only crying like she does every time she visits dad, but today she was sobbing to see that everything was gone,” Croci wrote.
The GoFundMe page was created to raise money to prosecute the “thief or thieves" responsible. Any funds not used for this purpose will be “donated to a local veterans organization."
The family then reached out to their state assemblyman, Ken Zebrowski, and to County Executive Ed Day.
They also contacted Jerry Donnellan, director of the Veterans Services Agency.
Donnellan said Wednesday that this is not the first time items have gone missing from the cemetery on Brick Church Road.
Most of the time, the disappearances can be chalked up to innocent reasons, such as deer eating the blooms or wind blowing them away, he said.
Donnellan said cemetery groundskeepers’ “standard operating procedure” is to remove withered flowers, or plastic ones that have faded, and flags that are tattered, but in this case, it was definitely vandalism.
“We are going to be putting the message out that veterans’ graves are nothing to be trifled with,” Donnellan said.
His group and Zebrowski are investigating the possibility of obtaining a state grant to install surveillance equipment at the 60-acre burial grounds.
Fliers are being distributed in the neighborhood offering a reward for information leading to the identification of the culprits, he said.
Parents in the area are also being “gently asked to bring their kids up to date on just what a military cemetery is about,” Donnellan said.
No one is sure that youngsters were responsible; the part of the cemetery Croci is buried in is not easily accessible and the thief likely used a car, which meant they would have been an adult, he said.
Zebrowski said Wednesday that he plans to co-sponsor a bill with state Assembly Majority Leader Joseph D. Morelle that would make it a felony to steal from, or otherwise damage, veterans' grave.
The lawmaker said he found the lack of respect for what veteran’s like Croci did for the country “shocking.”
Donnellan agreed, saying the threat of a “stiff fine, or a few days in jail” may give folks second thoughts before they steal from the dead.
“These people [veterans] fought so we could live in peace and all we have given them is a small plot of land and a piece of granite. I think it’s up to us now to see that they rest in peace.”
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