TAYLOR MILL, Ky. — Marie Coyle arrived at the Floral Hills Memorial Gardens cemetery on July 20 to visit her mother's grave on the anniversary of her death, only to find the grave stripped bare of all the lovingly placed decorations and memorabilia she'd left at the burial site.
She wasn't the only one to arrive at the cemetery to find precious items, flowers and even toys left on children's graves in the cemetery dumpster instead of graveside, where they'd been left.
"I was heartbroken," said Coyle. "I mean, there's just no words, you know. And ever since that night, I wake up in the middle of the night and I'm like, 'It's just a bad dream.' You know, nobody notified, nothing."
Robert Garner, the director of operations at Floral Hill, said the purge of items from gravesites is a result of cemetery policy: the items were never allowed, but the cemetery was never strict about enforcing it.
"We had a situation less than two weeks ago," said Garner. "That was a very, very dangerous safety issue. And at that time, there were some other things that happened within that week. And we had to make a decision to go back to our rules, regulations and flower policy. And we had to remove those items that families had put out there."
Garner declined to elaborate on what the safety issue was or how it happened, because of third parties involved in the incident.
He said the cemetery was in the process of notifying families the items were being cleared away, but didn't get very far before the weekend stalled their efforts -- and then it was too late. Photos and anecdotes from family members began flooding social media and tips from multiple people were received by WCPO.
"We were in the process of notifying them, and at that point, some of the families we notified were stopping in," said Garner. "And that's when the weekend hit. And that's when it turned into a really bad situation."
Lisa Mulberry, whose father is buried at Floral Hills, doesn't believe that was the case.
"They did not reach out to anybody that I know of. No email, no phone call, no letter, nothing," she said. "They just did it."
Some families have been able to recover personal items that were cleared away, Mulberry said, but many others haven't been so lucky.
"I have a friend here, her baby was 3 weeks old," said Coyle. "They had purchased a Cabbage Patch doll and sat it on her headstone. It's missing. Nowhere to be found."
Garner said he's sorry the communication about clearing out the items went poorly, but the safety issue that caused them to clean items from graves couldn't have been ignored.
"I would also want to sincerely apologize for any communication issues that, that we thought or they thought weren't delivered properly, but again, it goes back to the safety issues that we had to go with what we were presented with at the time," he said.