Mother concerned about thefts at son's grave

Tonya S. Grace|Kentucky New Era

Items left at the gravesite of Matthew Litchfield by his family have attracted thieves through the years.

Matthew Thomas Litchfield died a day before Halloween in 2008.

The 15-year-old Hopkinsville youth, a Christian County High School sophomore and University of Kentucky fan who loved elephants, had succumbed to leukemia.

His parents buried him in Riverside Cemetery, and for the past 11 years, they have visited his gravesite regularly, leaving special mementos and souvenirs.

"Anytime we go on vacation, we bring him back something from our vacation and put it out there," explained Tricia Litchfield, who visits at least once a week.

Matthew's mother said doing so makes it seem as if he goes with them on their trips, but for several years now that shared remembrance has been marred.

Litchfield said someone has been stealing the items from Matthew's grave, and she said there have been more items taken recently. One of three solar lit butterflies disappeared not long ago, and then the other two were taken.

A lot of the UK items have been stolen, Litchfield said.

Matthew's grave has numerous small statues, i.e., Mickey Mouse, angels and the teenager's cherished elephants, as well as UK and Titans helmets, a University of Kentucky gnome, several bears and a miniature of the famed "Hollywood" sign.

Litchfield said she thought maybe a small child was the culprit in at least one instance, not knowing any better and thinking the small items were toys.

But somebody had to pull up the butterflies, Matthew's mother noted.

Litchfield said the family has spoken to individuals they saw at Riverside Cemetery about the situation and were told they couldn't do anything about it.

She said she'd like to bring attention to the thefts to prevent more in the future.

Mike Perry, public works director for the City of Hopkinsville, agreed there's not a lot to be done about thieves who steal from gravesites. Ceramic angels and things like that are allowed, but the city's not responsible if they're stolen.

"You put it out there at your own risk," Perry said.

He noted that there have been reports of flowers stolen from gravesites in the past, and police during one instance placed trail cameras to catch the thieves.

They were fruitless in their efforts.

Perry said rules and regulations for the city's cemeteries ask that people not put any items around the graves during mowing season from April to November; they can place items on the actual headstones or on the edges of the headstones.

The director noted that there has been talk in the past of locking the cemetery gates. But that would require paying employees to lock the gates, Perry said, and he observed that people could still walk into the cemetery on foot.

The city essentially has two active cemeteries, Cave Spring and Riverside, which are open for burial; rules and regulations for the cemeteries are online, but Perry said people in the future may be given copies of them when they buy a grave.

He said there's also been discussion about putting new cemetery signs in front of Cave Spring and Riverside with cemetery maps and the rules and regulations.

Perry believes people likely will continue to take things from local graves, and he offers a piece of advice to those who want to leave items on the graves of friends and relatives:

"You just don't put anything like that," he said. "But beyond that, don't put anything of value out."

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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