MONTGOMERY, Ohio — A sign near the entrance to the Gate of Heaven cemetery in Montgomery reads, “You are now driving on sacred ground.”
Several elderly victims have had their cars broken into while visiting the gravesites of loved ones in local cemeteries.
“You treat the cemetery with respect,” theft victim Donna Mattia said. “You should treat the people that visit there with respect.”
She said she expected everyone at the cemetery to share those beliefs when she visited the graves of her parents and daughter July 7.
“Your guard is down and you’re very vulnerable,” Mattia said.
Montgomery police said Mattia is one of five people targeted by thieves at Gate of Heaven in recent months.
“Horrible,” she said. “I don’t think I have words to describe it. I really don’t. And I know when I’ve told people or they hear about it, they go, ‘a cemetery? Of all the places to take advantage of somebody that’s visiting a loved one.’ And that is. Those are sacred grounds.”
While she was visiting her daughter’s grave that day, someone took her purse out of her car – and racked up more than $9,000 in charges to her debit and credit cards at nearby Kroger stores. Mattia said she’s more concerned about the items she can’t replace.
“I had a rosary that my mother gave me before she passed,” she said. “I won’t recoup that.”
Mattia wants to warn other people to be more careful by double-checking to be sure their cars are locked – and putting any valuables out of sight.
“Just be diligent and look at your surroundings,” she said. “That’s one thing. I’ve become very paranoid since this happened.”
Montgomery Police are trying to identify two men whom they claim are responsible for that theft and several others. In addition to crimes at cemeteries and parks in West Chester, Evendale, Blue Ash and Fort Thomas, Kentucky, police have connected a theft just north of Indianapolis to the same suspects.
The department said Tuesday the two men could be from Houston and is coordinating with local authorities in that area as part of this investigation.
“We’ve got to catch these folks,” Mattia said. “Got to catch them.”
Authorities said there could be a third suspect they don’t have pictures of.
Anyone with information about the thefts or suspects should contact the Montgomery Police Department.