Police on Long Island are investigating dozens of bronze vase thefts from local cemeteries that have left families heartbroken and outraged.
Suffolk County police say 150 vases have been stolen from Pinelawn Cemetery. And nine vases have been reported stolen from St. Charles Cemetery in neighboring Farmingdale since October, though NBC New York counted more than 20 vases missing from just one small section of the cemetery Thursday.
Families at St. Charles cemetery are fuming that they have to pay for replacement vases. At the same time, Pinelawn Cemetery is saying they will pay for the vases.
Kathy Peranzo of East Meadow, N.Y., was one of the victims at St. Charles Cemetery. She lost her son Philip nearly six years ago to colon cancer, but she remembers him by visiting his grave at least twice a week.
Several few weeks ago, she arrived at her son's gravesite to find someone had pulled the bronze vase the grave, leaving a gaping hole in the ground.
"I can't even imagine anything lower than stealing from the dead," said Peranzo. "How can anyone do that? The families are still mourning them."
One theory is the thieves are selling the vases for scrap metal. And it's not a new occurrence.
"My son's vase was stolen from Pinelawn a few years ago," said Kathy Messina.
The Brooklyn Diocese of the Roman Catholic church, which runs St. Charles Cemetery, said it has increased security since these thefts were first discovered and that it has reported the thefts to police as well as the individual family members.
A few victims' families told NBC New York they received letters from the cemetery telling them about the thefts and advising them it would cost a few hundred dollars to replace. It's a cost most of the families do not believe they should be responsible for.
"If there was graffiti, wouldn't they clean it up?" Peranzo asked. "If people pushed over the gravestones, wouldn't you fix them? Of course they would. I don't understand what the difference is."
The faltering economy may be a reason why graveyard thefts have increased, but this isn't the first grave robbing incident at St Charles. In August 2010, vandals pried open the metal doors of three mausoleums, made their way into one crypt and carried out an entire casket.
"You think you come here and that's the end, nobody's gonna bother you anymore," said Dom Patti. "But I guess they still do."