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Holle Spessard stands near the damaged headstone at the grave of her infant son, Declan, Tuesday morning at the Round Lake Cemetery. A trio of elementary-aged children vandalized the cemetery early Monday evening. Behind Spessard are a couple of toys the vandals left behind -- a plastic sword and a gun covered in grey duct tape. (JULIE BUNTJER/DAILY GLOBE)

Child vandals damage Round Lake Cemetery

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Child vandals damage Round Lake Cemetery
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

ROUND LAKE -- Holle Spessard used a child-sized broom and a bucket of soapy water to clean up the headstone marking the grave of her infant son, Declan, Tuesday morning at Round Lake Cemetery, removing the remnants of destruction caused by a trio of elementary-aged vandals early Monday evening in the cemetery on the outskirts of town.

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Visibly tired after a sleepless night of nightmares and worry, Spessard made the drive from St. Peter alone Tuesday morning to find the statues at her son's grave broken and used as weapons to scar the lasered face of the child she and her husband, Nathan, buried just a year and a half ago.

"It feels so raw to me," she said. "The whole thing makes you sick."

Spessard's grave wasn't the only one damaged by the children. Round Lake city employee Bruce Bentele estimated nearly 100 gravesites sustained some damage. Solar lights were broken near many headstones, numerous statues were shattered and large floral pots were dumped and then hurled at granite markers, causing scratches, scrapes and even some breaks in the detailed stones.

The damage was discovered just before 7 p.m. Monday. In a town of roughly 300 people, it didn't take long to find the vandals. The three children reportedly admitted to the crime and were forced to clean up at least one stone on which one of them had defecated.

As word spread through the community Monday night, people began arriving at the cemetery to survey the damage and begin cleaning up around the stones of their loved ones.

Rosie Schumann and her oldest son arrived with flashlights around 11 p.m. They had received a call from Bentele at around 10:30 p.m., and knew they wouldn't be able to sleep until they came out and looked at the damage. There were several other people out there with flashlights, too.

Schumann said she had a large pot filled with dirt and decorated with artificial flowers sitting on a pedestal next to the grave of her husband, David. The flowers were tossed out, the dirt dumped and the pot shattered. The vandals had picked it up and tossed it onto the headstone of her in-laws, just to the right of her husband's grave.

"I don't know how kids can destroy something that don't even belong to 'em, you know?" she said as she prepared to clean up the area Tuesday morning. "It can be replaced, but still ..."

Due to the ages of the child vandals, Nobles County Chief Deputy Chris Heinrichs said, "It's unlikely that there will be any criminal charges." The case, though, will be forwarded to the Nobles County Attorney for possible charges once the investigation is completed.

The vandals had left a couple of things behind -- a plastic sword and gun wrapped in grey duct tape, placed underneath the evergreen tree near Declan Spessard's grave.

"We have toys and stuff everywhere, and I'm sure it's part of the reason the kids thought they should be over here," said Holle Spessard.

Despite the damage, she said she had to put some perspective on the crime.

"Declan isn't here. His body isn't harmed. It's not a new wound to us," she said. "It's just senseless, and I just need to figure out how to cope with this, too. You don't expect to move through the loss of a child -- it's just opening some raw wounds."

Destroyed at Declan's grave was a statue of an open Bible and another statue depicting Jesus' hands surrounding an infant. Also damaged was an angel statue that is believed to have caused the scratches to the headstone.

Yet, out of everything damaged, Spessard pointed to a small cross made of two sticks by her 8-year-old son, Noah, and a birdhouse hanging from the evergreen tree that was built by her grandfather. Both were left relatively unharmed by the vandals.

"Three-fourths of the stuff out here, I didn't put out here -- other people brought," she said. "It has been and will continue to be awesome to come out and see all these things that people have left."

With the quote of another grieving mother on her mind, Spessard said she and her husband take pride in maintaining the memories of their son and always look for things that can be used to decorate his grave.

"It's beyond upsetting when somebody decides that that isn't important," she said. "Let's face it, cemeteries are for the living ... it's where we come to find quiet time, our processing time with Declan. Obviously, as young as they (the vandals) were, they weren't thinking about that."

Round Lake Mayor Doug Knuth spent two hours at the cemetery Monday evening with the families who were able to come right away.

"There were a lot of tears," he said. "It made your stomach sick, almost.

"It's bad that it happens anywhere, but in a small town, everybody knows everybody else," Knuth said.

Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at
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