NASHUA— Nashua police are asking for the public's help in identifying who toppled, and in some cases smashed, 86 tombstones at the historic Woodlawn Cemetery over a period of at least two nights.
Tombstones as old as 200 years lay broken and split on the ground along with newer stones. In the wake of the vandalism, cemetery staff have worked to inform family members about the damage.
Police were first told by officials from Woodlawn that 82 gravestones had been damaged on March 14, and then received another call on the 15th that four more had been vandalized. Len Fournier, cemetery superintendent, estimated it would take $30,000 to repair the damage.
"That is just a guess though. I can't even begin to guess how much it will cost," Fournier said.
Fournier said that based on the size and weight of many of the stones, multiple people took part in the vandalism.
He added that while many stones can be fixed, the older stones, called tablets due to how thin they are, might not be able to be repaired.
In response to the destruction, police increased night patrols in the area and the areas of other city cemeteries in an effort to catch the culprits or at least deter them from doing any more damage.
Lt. Mike Moushegian of the Nashua Police Department refused to speculate on why the damage was done and by whom, but did say that once caught, the vandals will probably be charged with a felony.
Moushegian said those responsible would probably be charged with criminal mischief. He said a prosecutor might also have the option of instead charging the vandals with a felony for destruction of objects of sentimental value.
"But that's up to the prosecutor to decide, just like it is up to the prosecutor to decide if there are charges for each individual gravestone or not," Moushegian said.
Due to the fact that the gravestones were vandalized during the course of at least two nights, police are hopeful that someone in the area saw something that could lead to a break in the case.
"It's hard to say what the motivation was. It's not unheard of that this kind of thing happens on successive nights, but it highlights the fact that the public had an opportunity to see something," Moushegian said.
Fournier though said that might not be the case, as the destruction was focused on areas of the cemetery that are the most difficult to see from the road. He added that he expects the cost to repair the damage will probably come out of his annual budget.
Open to persons of all faiths, Woodlawn Cemetery was enacted and named by the state Legislature in 1895, although it has a history that precedes that date. Open year round, the main gate on Kinsley Street stays open to allow after-hour visitation.
Police ask anyone with information about the incident to call the department at 594-3500 or report it anonymously by using the Crime Line at 589-1665.