BELDING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gravesite mementos cleaned up by the city of Belding is causing outrage for people with loved ones at River Ridge Cemetery.

The mayor and city manager of Belding say they are apologetic about the city removing gravesite items at River Ridge cemetery, but that they were trying to clean it up. Visitors say the cemetery hasn’t enforced rules or cleaned the lots in decades.

Now residents are shocked and heartbroken at where the mementos were taken. 

“Is there more stuff over here?” a pair of sisters asked one another while searching for cherished mementos thrown out from River Ridge Cemetery.

“Discarded into a dumpster? Terrible. Terrible. And there is no excuse,” said Deb Karasiewicz, whose parents Bob and Alex Childs are buried at River Ridge Cemetery.

Families like the Browns decorate their loved one, Bailey’s, grave annually.

“Twelve years of birthday stuff out here and then gone in the trash,” said father Donald Brown.

Tuesday night, they searched for and found a few mementos at the memorial return site while the sisters are grieving through outrage after not finding the items placed at their mother and father’s grave, who was a World War II veteran.

“None of them. We saw a picture that somebody had posted (online) and we thought maybe one of them was a cardinal that we wanted, it was glass, I’m assuming it didn’t make it in the dumpster,” said Karasiewicz.

Many said they chose River Ridge because they can leave memorials. But residents said they were removed by the city and tossed in the dumpster. 

“In the dumpster at the city lot,” said Herschel Brown, grandfather of Bailey, “And had the lady on ‘Perfectly Belding’ site not posted that, nobody would even know.” 

“To say that nothing ever left here is a complete lie. Two truckloads left here of our stuff and now it’s all broken,” Donald Brown said. 

“We are very sorry that that happened, and we wished that the communication would have been better,” said Belding Mayor Bruce Meyers. “It’s fall, a lot of leaves and a lot of weeds and different things so how do we make it easier for us to be able to clean it not having all the resources we need in the (Department of Public Works) to do some of that work?” 

Still, people say the rules posted near the mausoleum are new.

“The rules changed. There was a wooden sign out here. It used to be engraved with the rules now there is a new sign, new rules,” said Herschel Brown.

Some say that the city is more focused on removing gravesite mementos than keeping the grounds clean of leaves and fallen branches. 

“They can’t clean the leaves, they can’t mow it, but they can come out and remove everyone’s stuff,” said Brown. 

When asked what they thought of the overall cemetery’s upkeep, Karasiewicz said: “Lacking.”

Her sister Diane Andres agrees. 

“Yeah. When we came up for Mother’s Day we had to bring a Weed Whacker and clean,” she said.

The outrage is clear. 

“The only thing I would like to see done is whoever made this decision to step down from being able to make that kind of decision ever again. Terrible, disgusting really,” said Donald Brown. 

Meyers said the city is working on assembling a committee.

“A committee would (be a good idea), but I also think I was told that the rules were posted online and it’s not. I haven’t found it so don’t lie to people. Own it and it’s a horrible mistake but post them and give them out when somebody purchases a plot,” said Karasiewicz.

Meyers said the city is working to make the cemetery better for all.

“Council has not enforced those rules in years and years so I think that the part of the formation of the committee of citizens and city officials to try and come up with, how do we make the cemeteries better to reflect the people we all know and love?”

The tent with memorial items will be open for the rest of the week for loved ones to come and pick up their gravesite keepsakes. 

A statement from the city manager was also released:

During the annual fall clean-up at the River Ridge Cemetery, workers mistakenly removed sentimental items from grave sites, which families wished to keep in place. After it was discovered that items were removed from the gravesites in error, city administration had all refuse bins used during the process taken to a secure location and searched. We believe all items that were removed by the employees were recovered.

The recovered items have been placed in a tent at the cemetery. Family and friends may secure the memorials and replace them on the grave sites, or take the items with them to replace at a later date. If family members are unable to visit the cemetery to secure their items, they may call City Hall and we will assist as necessary.

In response to this situation, we have set up internal guidelines to make sure all communication to our employees regarding work within our cemeteries is conducted in a more effective manner.

Additionally, city council has formed a citizens advisory committee to make sure current and future expectations regarding the care of our cemeteries meets the needs of the families we serve.

The City of Belding employees and elected officials send our heartfelt apologies to all those affected and will continue to make sure all items are returned to the proper families.

Belding City Council and Belding City Employees