Mansfield Mayor Marcial Mojena troubled by toppled tombstones

Tombstones were knocked over and cracked in half in Quaker Old Friends Cemetery in Mansfield, off Route 206 in Burlington County, after vandals deliberately destroyed the monuments and grave markers.

Mayor Marcial Mojena of Mansfield Township says vandalism to the headstones has been going on for several years but the Burlington County Republican did not explain why no action was taken to safeguard the memorials, which several concerned citizens say were damaged recently, possibly in connection with nearby construction.

“It appears that it’s not recent. It’s been done probably several times over a period of time, and that is sad,” said Mojena. Some residents believe the mayor is part of a coverup.

“There is no construction that’s going to be at this particular area anyway. It’s another lot adjacent on the corner. Nevertheless, special care will have to be taken to show the respect and sensitivity for any burial sites,” said Mojena.

Residents want those responsible for the destruction of the headstones and damage to gravesites held accountable. Photo credit: Victor Ramos

Township officials have not identified who was responsible for the damage, but Tom Stevenson, a member of the historic society, said he believes it was a company attempting to build a through-road for a nearby warehouse.

Stevenson said it’s about holding those responsible for the destruction of the graves accountable.

Stevenson says a report was done by the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office to assess the land’s historic nature in 2010, but no one in the local historic society has been able to track that report down.

“We have ancestors and our families (buried) here and our heritage, but where’s the government accountability?” Stevenson said.

Mojena says an investigation is underway to find who’s responsible for knocking over the tombstones on the land that is a privately owned cemetery.

A team of archeologists recently had to do a study in the area since a warehouse is set to be built nearby.

It was last month when they brought in construction equipment when the earth was disturbed.

“There is no construction that’s going to be at this particular area anyway. It’s another lot adjacent on the corner. Nevertheless, special care will have to be taken to show the respect and sensitivity for any burial sites,” said Mojena.

The developer regarding Mansfield Cemetery disturbance of gravesites issued a statement that reads:

“As part of the development project approval process, we retained a professional archeologist who conducted a thorough investigation, and we submitted the comprehensive report to the Township.”

Thomas Barclay of Ewing, says he has generations of family members buried at the Burlington County cemetery, which dates back to before the Revolutionary War.

Any with information about the toppled tombstones is asked to contact Mansfield Township police.

Barclay said he has previously noticed tombstones out of place but he has not seen anything like this.

“This is shocking actually to me,” said Barclay.

Photos of the cemetery show gravestones removed from their original places, and several instances of what look like open graves, including at least one that appears to have been a child’s grave. Some headstones are cracked in half.

Another concerned citizen, Victor Ramos, said he noticed that the damage appears to be recent.

“There’s a pile of brown tombstones over there, and there’s a series of holes,” Ramos said. “So some of this is pretty fresh like this area here is all brand new.”

Ramos said he was driving along Route 206 just before Easter when he saw construction equipment tearing through the cemetery. When he drove by later, the construction equipment was gone and the cemetery was ruined.

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