by Jen Lynds
A few decades ago, Aroostook County was relatively untouched by major crime.
With the passage of time, a poor economy and an escalating drug problem, however, it is difficult for people to say that anymore.
Still, this is an area where people look out for one another, coming to the aid of strangers just as often as they do friends.
This week, four individuals learned firsthand how deeply people care when someone has been victimized, even if the victim is dead.
The lesson came shortly after the grave marker of Joseph Houlton, the town’s founder, was reported missing from a local cemetery.
The 70-pound stone was taken earlier this month from a fairly isolated part of Evergreen Cemetery known locally as “Rich Man’s Hill.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the Houlton Police Department watched as one of the alleged thieves, 23-year-old Jeremy Skura of Hodgdon, fished it out of a swamp on the Hollywood Road.
According to Chief Butch Asselin, Skura, along with 18-year-old Leonard Devoe, 22-year-old Earl Little Jr, and 28-year-old Brian Devoe, all of Houlton, were consuming alcohol and partying in the cemetery when they began joking with one another about removing the headstone from the cemetery.
After it was taken, the suspects placed the headstone in a vehicle and took it to Skura’s residence in Hodgdon, according to police.
The next day, Skura allegedly panicked and drove the stone to the swamp on Hollywood Road, which is a short distance from the Houlton-Hodgdon town line.
He removed the stone from his vehicle, walked approximately 15 feet into the swamp and discarded the property into the water.
Area residents expressed anger and disbelief over the theft. Police received information on their anonymous tip line that helped them solve the case.
All of the accused were summoned for theft by unauthorized taking or transfer, a Class D crime punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.
It is hard to imagine what they were thinking as they were committing the crime. Maybe they thought it was funny. Maybe they thought that no one would notice, or if they did, that no one would care.
I am sure they realized how wrong they were when the police came looking for them.
On Friday, I overheard a teenager remark that what the four men did wasn’t a “big deal.”
“They didn’t steal a car or anything,” he said.
That’s true. They didn’t steal a car. Instead, they uprooted a monument commemorating the life of someone in the past for people in the future. The marker guaranteed that the identity of the deceased would live on even when those who loved him no longer did.
The name on that stone has been legible for 180 years.
But it only took a few minutes for the accused to try and erase it.
They were thwarted, however, because everyone, from the cemetery crew to the police to the tipsters who helped identify the accused, cared. No one shrugged their shoulders and walked away. No one had something more important to do.
I hope that the four men, if they are guilty, think about how they would feel if someone stole the gravestone of one of their loved ones and disposed of it like worthless trash.
I think that they would realize how deeply their heart would ache if, in an area where the living stand up for the dead, no one stepped forward and stood up for them.