RIVERVIEW — Images of smashed angels and broken headstones evoked outrage from hurt families and frustrated strangers.
One voice rose above the others Tuesday to demand strict punishment for a boy accused of cemetery vandalism.
"This has been awful," said Theresa Moore, 33, of Riverview. "I can completely relate and sympathize with the families that this happened to. It's devastating. I can't believe that my son would do something like this. As a parent, I feel like it's also an embarrassment on the family."
Moore's son, a 14-year-old sixth-grader at Giunta Middle School, and another boy, a 15-year-old seventh-grader, are accused of vandalizing at least 27 headstones as well as granite benches, ornaments, statues and flower pots placed by mourners at Serenity Meadows cemetery at 6919 Providence Road. Grave sites were also disturbed at the adjacent Hackney cemetery.
The teens face felony charges of criminal mischief and of damaging a tomb, deputies say. The St. Petersburg Times is not naming the boys because of their ages.
Moore wants her son to write apologies to the families affected and perform community service until he's 18, including cleaning up the damage.
Cemetery workers discovered the vandalism as they prepared Monday morning for the Memorial Day service.
Moore said her son and the other boy spent Sunday night at her home, a tidy stucco house near the Alafia River. She said the boys must have sneaked out.
On Monday, a deputy came to her home with the news.
She was furious. A single mother, she says she has worked hard to instill values in her son.
"I even have a loved one of mine that's buried at that cemetery," she said. "I've always tried to teach him better than this."
On Tuesday, her son appeared in juvenile court.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge D. Michelle Sisco ordered the younger boy held on home detention until June 16. That means he can leave home only for school, work or church.
Officials said he also has a pending charge of resisting arrest without violence from mid May. His mother says the charge stemmed from skipping school.
A judge will hear the 15-year-old's case later. No one answered a message for comment left at that boy's address, a mobile home near Palm River.
Both face juvenile sanctions.
Outside the courtroom, the 14-year-old boy told a reporter, "I'm sorry to all of the families."
Sheriff's officials said the teens told deputies they vandalized the cemetery for fun. A woman at the courthouse with the teen and his mother disputed that.
Later that afternoon, the boy added to his apology.
"I don't know what I was thinking at the time," he said in a phone interview. "If it happened to one of my family members, and stuff, I'd be devastated. As I was watching the news, I was about to cry. … I would just like to apologize to every single family member out there, that I'm really, really sorry."
He declined to answer questions about the incident.
Moore said she wanted her son to understand the consequences of his actions.
She forced him to watch television clips of the grieving families.
"He did cry when he watched the news — he's never really had to face death at this age," she said. "I think a lot of this came down to being involved with the wrong people."
Jose Cohen, 52, of Brandon has felt the pain of losing a loved one.
Five months ago, Cohen's 9-year-old granddaughter Zhonea Josey died from a complication of leukemia. Her grave was among those damaged. He wants those responsible to know they invaded a precious place.
"They knew there were people buried underneath each one of the those stones," he said. "What if it was their father? Would they still do the same? Those are the questions I have. It's a very sad situation."
As for punishment, Cohen puts his faith in the law.
"I will let the law do what it has to do," he said. "Community hours, a lot of them. I want them to remember this time. I don't want other kids to think this is funny. That's my main concern here."
Times staff writer Jan Wesner contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3373.