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Complaints pile up after cemetery owner locks gate

Karen Proffitt planned to visit her mother’s grave on Sunday, the second anniversary of her death. But like other people whose loved ones are buried in Shepherd Memorial Park, she learned that the cemetery was locked up.

“I’m 60 years old and I’ve never known those gates to be closed,” Proffitt said, attributing the action to Melody Shepherd, co-owner of Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors. “I don’t know what kind of game she’s playing but she’s hurting a lot of people. She can make the hours but Saturday and Sunday is the day people don’t work, when they go (visit loved ones’ graves). I don’t see how she can stop us if we bought those plots. That’s our land, those two plots.”
One day after good Samaritan landscapers voluntarily mowed the overgrown cemetery grounds and trimmed weeds around headstones, the cemetery’s owners locked the gates.
“Effectively immediately and until further notice, due to recent events and threat to the safety of our staff and security of the property Shepherd Memorial Park will be closed on Saturdays and Sundays when there are no services in progress,” a sign said.

There was no explanation of the “threat” and security issues. The Lightning tried to reach Shepherd Memorial Park for comment. The voicemail box of the cemetery phone was full and unable to accept messages.
Proffitt filed a complaint with the N.C. Cemetery Commission, one of several the regulatory agency had received over the past week. An official with the commission said that the board was looking into complaints about the Asheville Highway cemetery on Monday.

“We did get five complaints in today regarding the grounds and the property being locked up over the weekend,” said the employee, who said she did not want to be identified for security reasons. “They have 20 business days to respond to us in writing. Because of the volume of complaints we’ve gotten, I anticipate they’ll probably be heading out there at some point.”

Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors on Church Street has had its license suspended since last November. A hearing on numerous violations a state Board of Funeral Services inspector documented last summer could occur next month, the state agency’s director said earlier this month.

Evelyn Russell said she plans to file a complaint about Shepherd Memorial Park as well.
“I went Mother’s Day and the grass was almost to my knees, could not see the markers, the vase on my grandmother’s grave was gone,” she said. “We have an ongoing problem with my grandfather’s grave sinking that they have never fixed and it has sunk even more.”
“I was greatly impressed with those gentlemen that took their time out and went out there and cut the grass and got no thanks from the people at Shepherd at all,” she said.
When she called the cemetery office, she got a call back from someone who shed light on part of the problem.
“The lady was very kind,” Russell said. “She said, ‘I’m so sorry. We have one groundskeeper out here that has to open all the graves when there’s a service, cut all the grass, take care of all the maintenance,’ and she said, ‘It’s just more than he can handle.’” Cemetery managers, the caller told Russell, advertised for help but could not get anyone to apply.

The Lightning tried to reach Shepherd Memorial Park for comment. The voicemail box of the cemetery phone was full and unable to accept messages.