The Rev. Michael Weston has a question for the vandals who knocked over gravestones and smashed memorials twice in 10 days at St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church. "Why? What's the point?" Weston said.
On the night of Aug. 9., five headstones were knocked over and three were broken off their bases in the cemetery, located at the intersection of Fairfax Station and Ox Roads, according to the Fairfax County Police.
The destruction was discovered the next morning by a man who was working on setting an unvandalized headstone, said John Moar, cemetarian for the church.
On Aug. 20, 22 more graves were desecrated in similar fashions.
Weston was the first to come upon the cemetery on Aug. 21. "I was saddened to see such a desecration of such a sacred place," Weston said. "It kind of weighs heavy on your heart."
A total of 30 gravestones were vandalized. There are approximately 800 people buried in the cemetery, with the first burials dating back to approximately 1870, Moar said.
"The first night, they were mostly in the children's area, and the smaller tombstones," Moar said. The second night, the vandals went after larger targets.
In some cases, ornaments on the stones, like a granite vase, were smashed. Lanterns, flowers and candles that marked more recent graves were also destroyed.
Moar said that the church has not yet been able to reach the families of all of the desecrated tombs. "Some are aware, but not many," he said.
THE DESTRUCTION of the tombstones didn't seem to fit any pattern. One dated back to 1886, others are for burials in the 1990s.
Tall trees obscure the view of the cemetery from Ox Road, and no residences can be seen from it. The church has a small parking lot, which is illuminated at night, but the cemetery itself has no lighting. The vandals could really have been seen only by motorists passing the intersection of Ox Road and Fairfax Station Road.
The tombstones are mostly made from granite and affixed to their bases with mastic and, in some cases, a metal bolt. It is unlikely that a person alone would be able to knock one over.
"They did some work on this one," said John Parrish of Kline Memorials, as he was working on resetting one of the stones on Wednesday morning.
In one case, the vandals attempted unsuccessfully to knock over a tombstone on the first night but went after the same stone the second night and were able to knock it from its base, Moar said.
Moar said that he and others searched the area but were unable to find any other evidence. The stones do not show any evidence of chipping or the use of large tools.
Police are seeking information about the desecration. "It's just people being idiots. And that's being kind," said Tom Harrington, spokesperson for the Fairfax County Police. "Somebody went and trashed a historical cemetery twice in 10 days."
The police were able to "lift" several fingerprints from the gravestones, Harrington said. Destroying gravestones is a Class 6 felony according to Virginia law. If convicted, the vandals could face from one to five years in prison or a fine of up to $2,500, Harrington said.
Moar, who has been the church's cemetarian for about 15 years, said that a similar incident occurred about 10 years ago. That was ultimately traced to a Manassas-based Satanic cult. Moar does not believe that this incident is related to the same group.