A local radio station and people from as far away as New Jersey pledged Wednesday to add to a reward aimed at finding whoever vandalized a 6-year-old girl’s grave site in Fairfield.
By Wednesday afternoon, Fairfield police said the reward pool, which started at $350 Tuesday, had grown to $1,800.
An Augusta-based security company plans to make its own contribution by donating surveillance equipment to monitor the grave of Avery Lane, who died from complications of the influenza strain that struck central Maine in December 2012. She was the first child in Maine to die from influenza since 2010.
The grave site at the Friends Cemetery – decorated with wind chimes, a bench, toys and other items – was vandalized twice last weekend. It was the third such incident in the past year, said Avery’s family. No other graves in the cemetery have been vandalized.
The cemetery is next to the 1784 North Fairfield Friends Meeting House. No one from the Religious Society of Friends, which owns the cemetery, could be reached for comment Wednesday. Fairfield police said they haven’t been able to contact the owners.
A message left Tuesday at a telephone number said to be the pastor’s was not returned. On Wednesday, that number was listed as no longer in service.
Paul Cates, former minister of the Vassalboro Friends, said grave sites adorned like Avery’s aren’t in keeping with tradition. The religion, whose members are commonly known as Quakers, emphasizes simplicity and unadorned living.
“We don’t have anything like that in our cemetery,” Cates said. “The idea of decorating with pinwheels and toys and stuff like that is not in the tradition of the Friends.”
Cates said decorated grave sites “wouldn’t be forbidden, but they would be considered in poor taste.”
If such decorating were to happen in Vassalboro, Cates said, the Friends probably would discuss it with the family.
VANDALIZED TWO DAYS IN A ROW
Avery’s mother, Tabitha Souzer, 28, of Fairfield, said that when she arrived at the grave Sunday, she found that a shepherd’s hook that held wind chimes was gone. One of the chimes was broken, the other was on the ground, graveside pinwheels were gone, and a glass turkey, a porcelain cat and a heavy iron bench had been moved. She said she replaced all of the items and went home.
She returned Monday and found that the bench had been thrown over an embankment into the nearby woods, the glass turkey was smashed, and the wind chimes and shepherd’s hook were gone again.
Souzer said Avery was buried in the Lane family plot, but she has no affiliation with the Friends church.
Avery’s grave has a polished black-granite marker, etched with a photo of her blowing bubbles, and engraved images of two cats.
Donations poured in after the Morning Sentinel reported the vandalism Wednesday.
“We have received some calls this morning from people who are willing to bring down some money to add to our in-house reward,” said Fairfield Police Chief Thomas Gould. “We expect that number to grow as we have had inquiries all day.”
Gould said Detective Matt Wilcox has been assigned to investigate the case.
Souzer said Wednesday that there had been no new vandalism overnight and that she is grateful for all the attention.
REWARD POOL KEEPS GROWING
Kennebec County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Pierce was on duty on Dec. 11, 2012, when an emergency call came in from the home of Avery’s father in Clinton. The girl died in Pierce’s arms. She was a first-grader at Benton Elementary School.
Pierce said he cried when he found the grave vandalized Sunday – just after his return from eight months in Afghanistan with the Maine Army National Guard – and he first offered a reward of $250 for information to help find the culprit.
Fairfield police added $100, and calls and emails offering more money began coming in Wednesday.
Kelly Liberty of Benton, the sister-in-law of Sheriff Randall Liberty, said Wednesday that her family contributed $100 to the reward pool. She said she has a 4-year-old grandchild, and “I can’t imagine somebody doing that. It bothers me.”
Jay Hanson, general manager at radio station 107.9 FM in Waterville, said the morning show Wednesday featured the story of the grave site vandalism.
“First of all, it’s my hometown,” he said of Fairfield. “And whenever we have an opportunity to do anything in central Maine to improve lives or counteract any wrongdoing, we do our best to step up.
“And you have the added disheartening part of it that involved the family that had to endure the unthinkable – losing their 6-year-old child – and to be subjected to this heinous act, it just tugs at the heartstrings,” he said.
CAMERA TO MONITOR GRAVE SITE
Lawrence Bethke of Elizabeth, N.J., who saw the story on Facebook, said he will donate $250 to the reward pool because his 3-year-old child died and he continues to have problems with vandals at the grave site in New Bedford, Mass.
“I am a father of an angel in heaven,” Bethke said. “I have the same problem with people stealing toys and the flowers and stuff like that.”
Steve Hayden, general manager and vice president of Main Security and Surveillance in Augusta, said he has agreed to install a remote night-vision surveillance camera near the grave site to try to catch any future vandalism.
“We’ll do everything that we can do. It’s such a disturbing scenario, we want to help out any way” we can, Hayden said.
Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at: