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Long IslandSuffolk

Suffolk police investigate Melville Cemetery desecration

Parsa Karimi went to Melville Cemetery on Friday, hoping to find his uncle's gravestone was not among the dozens damaged in an act of vandalism.

Karimi, 30, of Farmingdale, froze in the nearly 200-year-old cemetery when he saw the stone had been knocked over - and he was just as upset that a cemetery official didn't tell him about it.

"It's like he died all over again," Karimi said, his eyes fixed on the toppled gravestone. "I know it's a small cemetery, but make some effort."

Suffolk police detectives are investigating the desecration of the headstones, which was reported to police Thursday morning. The headstones were knocked over sometime between Tuesday and Wednesday, police said.

More than 100 stones remained damaged Friday on the 17-acre property on Sweet Hollow Road, said Raymond DeVine, the superintendent of the Melville Cemetery.

DeVine said he informed Karimi and others who inquired that they would have to go to the cemetery and find out themselves if their loved ones' headstones were damaged.

"We can't sit on the phone all day and call a hundred people," DeVine said. "This is a one-person office."

After hearing about the vandalism on the local news, Karimi, a physical therapist, called the cemetery's office.

DeVine said he informed Karimi and other concerned family members that the grave site and stones were personal property, and the cemetery was not responsible. DeVine told victims they would have to file a homeowners' insurance claim.

"I keep staring at the gravestone, hoping it will just fix itself," Karimi said.

Brian O'Neill, president of Stone Unlimited Inc., which made some of the headstones that were damaged, said some of the granite stones weigh more than 3,000 pounds.

O'Neill spent Friday afternoon walking through each plot, counting the toppled stones. He counted 88.

The damaged headstones varied in size and age, and some were so worn their markings were illegible.

"Usually around Halloween you see five or eight down, but nothing like this," O'Neill said. "This is what they consider fun?"

Shortly after Karimi's uncle, Djafar Hamzeh, 62, died Aug. 20, 2008, Karimi recalled one evening visit to the cemetery interrupted by flashlights and laughter. He yelled at the group of kids, and they scurried away, he said.

DeVine, superintendent for the past 17 years, said vandalism on cemetery property occurs on occasion, but "never like this."

Police said one person could not have done all that damage.

Karimi plans to visit his uncle's plot again this weekend, this time with several friends to see if the headstone still is on the ground.

"I guess," he said, "we're gonna try to put it back up ourselves."

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