Cordova man charged in cemetery vandalism

Monument company to repair markers for free

CORDOVA — A Cordova man has confessed to vandalizing dozens of graves at Mt. Carmel Cemetery last week, Police Chief Nick Smith said on Monday. Joshua Hicks, 23, has been charged with first-degree criminal mischief and desecration of a gravesite. Hicks was arrested Monday afternoon and taken to the Walker County Jail, where he was expected to be released on an unsecured bond. Smith said officials have another person of interest in the case, but no charges have been filed. Hicks and the second individual were recently charged with criminal littering following an incident at the Old Park in Cordova. The two dumped trash out of cans at the park and scattered it around the basketball court and baseball fields, according to Smith. Hicks was identified as a suspect in the cemetery vandalism after a person who lives nearby identified a vehicle seen in the area Thursday night. Smith recognized the vehicle, which led during the investigation to bringing in Hicks for questioning. The vehicle did not belong to Hicks. A $1,000 reward had been offered in the case by an anonymous donor and the police department. “This is why community policing is so important. If someone from this community commits a crime, it doesn’t take much information for us to be able to connect the dots,” Smith said. Over 70 grave markers were knocked over or smashed Thursday night, according to police estimates. Several of the markers belonged to infants. Some were over 100 years old. Though the grave of Benjamin Long, founder of Cordova, was untouched, a nearby marker of a Long family member was pushed over.

Benches and vases on the Cotton family lot, where the original Mt. Carmel Church once stood, were damaged as well. Twila Richardson, a member of the Mt. Carmel Cemetery organization, said it was the most widespread act of vandalism at the cemetery since she joined the board in the late 1990s. The last time so many graves were damaged at that cemetery was in spring 2009, when a tornado uprooted trees and broke storefront windows in downtown Cordova. On Monday, volunteers for the cemetery organization were compiling a list of all the graves that had been damaged. Some of the family members who have loved ones in the cemetery no longer live in the area and are relying on others to check graves on their behalf. “I want to catalog it so we can publish it somewhere, at least on Facebook, to try and notify the families,” Richardson said. She added that those whose family’s graves were vandalized are “heartbroken” and “sick.” “Such disrespect. In my experience, folks don’t have a whole lot of respect for the living. Now we don’t respect the dead anymore,” Richardson said. Once the damage has been documented, the cemetery association will plan a clean-up day similar to one held after the 2009 tornado, Richardson said. On Monday, Ryan Manasco of Patterson Monument Company in Jasper said he would be willing to reset the damaged markers at no charge. Manasco, who co-owns the company with his business partner, Dylan Lane, learned of the vandalism via social media. He said the company has performed similar acts of community service at other cemeteries following vandalism or natural disasters. Patterson Monument, which was previously based in Carbon Hill, assisted with repairs at Mt. Carmel Cemetery in 2009. “We always try to help out. Even though it’s nobody’s responsibility to do it, it’s the right thing to do. We want to make sure that everything is put back the way it should be,” Manasco said.