Historic Hamblen Co. graves trashed

By: Sara Shookman Email
By: Sara Shookman Email

RUSSELLVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Two teens are in trouble, accused of vandalizing dozens of historic grave markers.

Hamblen county deputies say teenage boys, 13 and 15, hit Bethesda Cemetery and church dating to the Civil War.

They left broken windows, overturned tombstones and graffiti behind in Russellville.

Denise Terry Stapleton buried her dad, Charlie, here just two years ago. Her grandmother is nearby.

"What do you think when you hear vandalism, when you hear graves knocked over, windows broken, spray paint?," we asked her. "It's heartbreaking," said Terry Stapleton.

Her father's monument was untouched but Terry Stapleton says seeing stones restacked hurts families.

"I think we all suffer a loss when this happens," she said. "Things like this shouldn't happen, and if we took a more firm stand maybe things like this can be avoided."

Bethesda Presbyterian Church was built in 1835 and used as a hospital during the Civil War.

"It's a time capsule. It really is," said Mike Beck, president of the Lakeway Civil War Preservation Association.

"You can see candle wax, broken glass, debris," said Beck. "To see stupid stuff like this happen, it really makes your blood boil."

Hamblen County Sheriff's Office says two teenagers left behind a bike which led to their arrest.

"They did it just because they were bored, and they thought it would be cute to desecrate the cemetery," said Sheriff Esco Jarnigan.

The damage will cost thousands to repair and could take weeks, but Terry Stapleton says she knows families won't hesitate to help out.

"It just makes the love for this place grow and grow, and you want to do more to do things to help," said Terry Stapleton.

The teens were arrested today on attempted arson and vandalism charges. Sheriff Jarnigan says he'll request restitution if the pair is found guilty.

If you can help with the restoration or have family stories to contribute, you can get more information from the Friends of Bethesda group. They are in contact with the Trustees of Bethesda and Lakeway Civil War Preservation group.

Friends of Bethesda
P.O. Box 724
Morristown, TN 37815
(423) 586-5800


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