BROWNING — Families are heartbroken at the sight of vandalized graves in the Willow Creek Cemetery in Browning. The crime is rumored to have occurred a couple of days ago, and loved ones are making their way out to the site in hopes that their deceaseds' headstones are still in one piece.
At this point, it's estimated that at least 49 headstones have been damaged, many with photos scratched off or smashed to pieces.
Theodora Weatherwax has a son who was buried in the cemetery more than 19 years ago. After coming home from a trip out of state, she received news that her son’s grave was the victim of the vandalism.
“I cannot believe that somebody would go and do that. This is really a great atrocity for all the people who are deceased and all the people who have headstones” she said.
Ken Spotted Eagle was also disheartened to find not one, not two, but six of his family's graves damaged.
“I hurt because… they – they were laid to rest, you know?”
Theodora was told by a professional who fixes headstones that the cost to fix her son's grave will be roughly around $800.
“It’s going to cost quite a bit, and I feel bad because not everyone can afford to fix them,” she explained. “Some of the people whose headstone was damaged, they may not have a family member anymore to even replace it,”
The community hopes that going forward, changes can be made to prevent destruction from occurring again.
Theodora said, “I think the graveyard gates have to be locked at a certain time. We need some cameras – we need things happening. Things need to be changed, and it needs to be changed for the betterment of all of the people”
Tim Davis, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, said, "This senseless act of vandalism borders on terrorism, creating trauma, heartbreak, and psychological harm to the affected families and all good people of the Blackfeet Nation. The Council will work with all law enforcement agencies to ensure the vandals are caught and brought to justice."
Mary Jo Bremner, chairwoman of the Glacier County Commission, said in a Facebook post: "The extreme grief that everyone is feeling because of what has happened to our cherished headstones is in forefront of the minds of the Glacier County Commissioners and we will be having a special meeting on Monday in Browning to discuss what we can do. We want to assure the public that we are going to do everything in our power to help alleviate this problem and to make sure it never happens again. Our sheriff's department has launched an investigation and we hope to find some answers for you as soon as possible."
The Council will be working with Glacier County and the Willow Creek Cemetery Board on how to assist the families in replacing the vandalized headstones.
At this time, there are no suspects, but an investigation is underway to find those accountable. Anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to call Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services at 406-338-4000.