Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

National cemetery vandals target graves of Jewish vets

BUSHNELL — At first, the vandalism looked like an act of appalling but random disrespect.

Early Saturday morning, a worker at Florida National Cemetery near Bushnell discovered grave markers in Section 327 that had been uprooted or knocked over. The next day, crews found 10 more disturbed stones in nearby Section 324, where renovations are currently under way. Both sections are on the southwestern side of the sprawling, 527-acre cemetery.

Then cemetery staffers saw the pattern: Etched in the top of all 13 markers was the Star of David, indicating the deceased were of the Jewish faith.

"We knew we had a problem" beyond random vandalism, said cemetery director Kurt Rotar.

Rotar contacted the Veterans Administration police on Sunday and the Sumter County Sheriff's Office on Monday. Both agencies are investigating the incident as a hate crime because the markers indicate a clear target, said Lt. Bobby Caruthers, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

Hate crimes are characterized by the perpetrator targeting a victim because of race, ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation. Florida's hate crime law mandates increased penalties for convictions of crimes where there is evidence of prejudice.

In this case, for example, the likely charge would be injuring or removing a tomb or monument, a third-degree felony, Caruthers said. The hate crime designation increases the charge to a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

Since the crime occurred in a national cemetery, the case could also be prosecuted in federal court, Caruthers said.

The headstones marked the graves of Jewish veterans of World War II and conflicts in Vietnam and Korea, and their spouses, buried in the last six years or so, Rotar said. Most were from the greater Tampa or Orlando areas.

Rotar called the families of the deceased to notify them.

"We reassured them that the stones were not damaged and the grave sites themselves had not been compromised in any way," he said. "If you walk out there now, you couldn't tell which stones had been pushed over."

It's the first act of vandalism in the cemetery's 24-year history, Rotar said.

The cemetery is bordered by the Withlacoochee State Forest to the west and south and the Sumter Correctional Institution to the north. A camera is at the cemetery's entrance, but there are plenty of places to gain access to the grounds, Rotar said.

A longer version of this story appears in some regional editions of the Times.

Comments
The all-time NBA draft — the best pick from every slot

The all-time NBA draft — the best pick from every slot

There’s a definitive answer every year to the question of who is No. 1 in the NBA draft. But who is the No. 1 pick of all No. 1 draft picks ever? Or No. 1 among the list of No. 2 draft picks? Those are questions that have no definitive answer, except...
Updated: 14 minutes ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Plant City’s champion Al Berry, whose name shouted his passion, dead at 83

Plant City’s champion Al Berry, whose name shouted his passion, dead at 83

His name was Berry and berry was his passion — the strawberry that put his beloved Plant City on the map.Alfred "Al" Berry was born with the name, but he took on his role as chief promoter of Plant City through his four decades of work with the commu...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Column: How the U.S. cornered the market for skilled immigrants

Column: How the U.S. cornered the market for skilled immigrants

Countries are constantly competing for the most talented workers and, according to the best available immigration statistics, the United States has been winning.The United States is home to just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but in 2010, it ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For once, scientists found good news about West Antarctica

For once, scientists found good news about West Antarctica

At least since 2014, the news has been dire: The West Antarctic ice sheet is losing ice, and its retreat may be unstoppable. It may be only a matter of time (granted, maybe a very long time) before it adds as much as 10 feet to global sea-level rise....
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies: Zephyrhills bank robbed, suspect flees on bicycle

Deputies: Zephyrhills bank robbed, suspect flees on bicycle

A Suntrust Bank in Zephyrhills was robbed early Thursday afternoon, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.At about 12:50 p.m., deputies said, the man walked into the bank at 34511 State Road 54 and presented a note demanding money, though he...
Updated: 1 hour ago
First lady’s ‘I don’t care’ jacket causes a stir

First lady’s ‘I don’t care’ jacket causes a stir

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — First lady Melania Trump boarded a flight to a facility housing migrant children separated from their parents wearing a jacket that read "I really don’t care, do u?"The green hooded spring military jacket has the words written g...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Saboteur or whistleblower? Battle between Elon Musk and former Tesla employee turns ugly, exposing internal rancor

Saboteur or whistleblower? Battle between Elon Musk and former Tesla employee turns ugly, exposing internal rancor

Hours after Tesla had sued its former employee on charges he had stolen company secrets, and days after chief Elon Musk had called him a saboteur, the Silicon Valley automaker made a startling claim. The company had received a call from a friend of t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Islanders hire Barry Trotz as coach fresh off winning Stanley Cup

Islanders hire Barry Trotz as coach fresh off winning Stanley Cup

DALLAS — The New York Islanders have hired Barry Trotz as their new head coach. President of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello announced the move Thursday at the NHL draft, two weeks after Trotz won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals and thr...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Armature Works developers sue Ulele and city of Tampa over use of nearby building

Armature Works developers sue Ulele and city of Tampa over use of nearby building

TAMPA — Two of the city’s hottest developers — the companies behind Ulele and the Armature Works — are heading to court over control of an old city building that sits between the hit eateries. Both want to redevelop the city&...
Updated: 2 hours ago