FAIRFIELD — Overseers of a Quaker cemetery said Thursday that decorations at the burial site of a 6-year-old girl aren’t in keeping with church tradition but they don’t know anything about recent vandalism of the grave.

Michael Trombley, pastor of the Friends Meeting House, next to the cemetery off Middle Road, said he didn’t know about the recent vandalism until he was contacted by a reporter.

Friends Cemetery Association Sexton Ron Fenlason, who is in charge of the upkeep of the graves, said Thursday that while the death of a child is devastating, he hopes Avery’s family eventually will tone down the grave site to more closely match the rest of the cemetery. He said an apple tree planted behind the gravestone will have to go.

Fenlason, 79, said the association did a spring cleanup of the cemetery at the end of April, but members did not move or damage any of the items on Avery’s grave.

Fenlason said he couldn’t recall any previous instances of vandalism of graves at the cemetery. “Losing a little girl has got to be so sad, so we kind of overlook stuff for a while,” Fenlason said .Avery Lane died from complications of the influenza strain that struck central Maine in December 2012. She became the first child to die of influenza in Maine since 2010.

Trombley, 64, said Quakers try to live a simple life and members of the Religious Society of Friends, as the congregation is known, intend to maintain that decorum even after death. Graves at the North Fairfield Friends Meeting House cemetery, some dating back 200 years, mostly reflect that simplicity.

Avery’s grave is adorned with a colorful headstone, a playful sunflower pinwheel, wind chimes, little toys and an ornate iron bench. The grave site has been the target of vandalism three times over the past year, including twice last weekend. Keepsakes, a heavy iron bench and other items were smashed and thrown into nearby woods.

Fairfield police are investigating, and a reward for information about the vandal is approaching $2,000, with donations raised so far.

Police Chief Thomas Gould said Thursday that the investigation continued and no one has come forward with information about the vandalism to claim the reward. “We have a list of possible witnesses, but no name stands out more than anyone else. We do not have a suspect,” Gould said.

After seeing Avery’s grave for the first time Thursday – all of the decorations and the bench have been replaced – Trombley noted that the child’s grave clearly is “much brighter” than any of the others in the cemetery.

“Our ideas are things to be very plain and simple, so Quakers don’t go in for a lot of ornamentation or anything that’s showy,” Trombley said.

“The Meeting would not be opposed to this grave, but it’s not exactly a Quaker thing; we would go for something different,” he said. “An old-time Quaker family – you can see, all the graves are very simple, but evidently this girl died quite young, so I would see where there would be a lot more emotion and different feelings attached to that.”

Avery’s mother, Tabitha Souzer, 28, of Fairfield, said that when she bought the plot at the cemetery, she was not advised about any strict rules for adorning the site. She said the site was selected because it is next to the Lane family plot, but she has no affiliation with the Friends church.

She said she got a call from Fenlason soon after the burial, and after family members and friends had lain several memorial objects at the grave site. “I said, ‘She’s just a little girl and it just happened,’ ” Souzer said. “He said, ‘Well we’re kind of a laid-back cemetery,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ and I cleaned it up a little bit.

“He said we could keep the stuff up because he didn’t tell us that until after we bought the plot,” Souzer said. “I would think that if it was a big deal, he would have brought it back up to us, and nobody has said anything since.”

She said she would never disrespect the Friends Society knowingly and agreed that if it wants it toned down, she would be willing to create a memorial to Avery at her home on Martin Stream Road.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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