Teens accused of taking skull from grave in Spring Hill Cemetery

BROOKSVILLE — Graveyard caretaker Alyce Walker let out a sigh when police told her Saturday that Spring Hill Cemetery has been vandalized once again.

Although this was not the first time the historically African-American cemetery was defaced, she said, it was the first time suspects took souvenirs.

Joel Rivera, 19, and Seth McCarty, 18, were arrested Saturday, accused of desecrating an unidentified grave site.

Deputies say the pair broke into a tomb and stole a skull, which they took to a friend's house and put into a 5-gallon bucket of bleach, according to a Hernando County sheriff's report.

"We've worked so hard to keep that place up," Walker, 82, said Monday. "It just hurts to see this happen."

A Hernando County deputy on a routine patrol made the grisly discovery Saturday afternoon during a routine check. The area is known as a place for drug dealing and illegal trash dumping. The deputy began investigating because he saw an unoccupied vehicle at Spring Hill Cemetery on Fort Dade Avenue about 3:45 p.m., according to a report.

He noticed that a concrete top of a tomb at the rear of the cemetery was partially open. The tomb had a hole in the side, about 8 by 10 inches. Inside the tomb, which had no name or other markings, the deputy saw a decayed wooden casket missing a top. The deputy then saw the remains of a person dressed in a man's clothing. The skull was missing, the report states.

A short time later, McCarty and Rivera emerged from the woods surrounding the cemetery. They told deputies they had heard the cemetery might be haunted and they were looking for some antique landmarks in the woods, the report states.

At first, the report states, they denied any knowledge of the grave disturbance. The two said they had been to the cemetery the night before and saw a broken tomb. Later, they admitted to removing the skull, the report states.

The teens said they used a piece of the concrete from the tomb to make the hole larger, the report states.

The two men told authorities they took the skull to a friend's house where they placed it in bleach, the report states. The deputies recovered the skull.

Detectives said they had no indications of any satanic ritual or occult activity involved in this case.

McCarty, of Ridge Manor, and Rivera, of Brooksville, were each charged with one count of disfiguring/removal of a tomb/monument and taken to Hernando County Jail on $5,000 bail.

As of Monday, Rivera has been released while McCarty remains in police custody. Neither Rivera nor McCarty could be reached for comment Monday.

This arrest was not Rivera's first run-in with the law. The 19-year-old pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana in 2007 and was arrested for property damage and criminal mischief in March.

Deputies contacted Walker to ensure that repairs would be made to the tomb and to seek help in identifying the grave site for family notification.

Walker said that some of the graves in the cemetery date to the Civil War era. She didn't know anything about the grave that was disturbed.

As a result of this incident, Walker is planning to raise money to put lights, fences and a gate around the cemetery to prevent further vandalism.

"I want our cemetery to be treated with respect, just like anyone else," Walker said.

Ryan Strong can be reached at rstrong@sptimes.com or at (352) 544-1630.

Teens accused of taking skull from grave in Spring Hill Cemetery 06/15/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 15, 2009 7:26pm]

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