Mindy Purvis surveys the damage that a person or persons did to many of the markers at the Butts Family Cemetery in Sebrell. She discovered the vandalism Sunday when she went to visit her mother’s grave, which was undisturbed. -- STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS
Mindy Purvis surveys the damage that a person or persons did to many of the markers at the Butts Family Cemetery in Sebrell. She discovered the vandalism Sunday when she went to visit her mother’s grave, which was undisturbed. -- STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS

Archived Story

Headstones found destroyed at family cemetery

Published 10:46am Wednesday, October 2, 2013

SEBRELL—The vandalism of many grave markers at a family plot in Sebrell has devastated a Courtland woman.

Mindy Purvis said she discovered the crime when she went alone to the Butts Family Cemetery on Old Hickory Road after Sunday evening worship. She was there to visit the grave of her mother, Mable L. Brown, who had died 24 years ago on Monday.

Purvis said she first noticed that Clarence Delaware Williams’ marker was pulled out of its setting and broken. He and Richard T. Williams, buried close by, are her kin. Richard, she said, was a descendant of her grandmother, Ruby Hines. She then went to the set of graves closest to the road and saw those also had been damaged.

“That’s when I realized I had entered into a crime scene,” Purvis said. “The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Is it a hate crime?’”

Approximately 17 gravesites have been disturbed, either by markers broken or tipped over, and floral arrangements are scattered in several places; further, there’s no graffiti evident.

The destruction was spread among 17 gravesites at the Butts Family Cemetery in Sebrell. -- STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS
The destruction was spread among 17 gravesites at the Butts Family Cemetery in Sebrell. — STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS

“This is certainly nothing I ever expected to see,” she said. “I’ve been coming here since I was five or six years old. It’s a family tradition.”

Along with other relatives, Purvis will come to the family plot three to four times a year, such as the past Memorial Day to pay respects and even clean up any accumulated debris.

She said she has no clue to who might have done the vandalism, but did say that Southampton County Sheriff’s Deputy R. Colby came to the scene after she called. He took photographs and might have found some evidence, Purvis said. She added that she understood whatever he found suggested the crime took place within the past week.

In addition to contacting authorities, she alerted Helen Joyner, the caretaker. The headstone for her and her late husband was also tampered with among the others.

Joyner said she’d immediately begin making calls to have the markers either repaired or replaced.

Purvis is also contacting other families with loved ones buried at the plot on what to do next.

“This is something we all understand takes time,” she said. “The families I’ve contacted, they’re all devastated by this.”

One grave that wasn’t disturbed was that of Purvis’s mother, Mable.

Asked to describe her, Purvis said, “I’ve never seen a person like her on this earth. She was very kind and loving. She put me and my two brothers through college.”

Brown had worked at both the former H.P. Beale and Sons Meatpacking, and retired in order to deal with breast cancer. The disease later returned while she was working at Courtland Health and Rehabilitation Center.

As Purvis walks around surveying the ruin, she stares or sometimes shakes her head, as if in disbelief.

“I just want the community to be aware of this, and for the individual or individuals to realize they have done something to a sacred space,” she said. “Hopefully, they won’t do anymore damage in Southampton County or anywhere else. This was very mean spirited.”

Anyone with information about this crime is asked to contact the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office at 653-2100.

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