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Sep 21, 2016 11:15 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Police Investigate Link To Cemetery Vandalism With Pokémon Go

North End Graveyard in Southampton Village, a Pokemon Go
Sep 21, 2016 11:29 AM

Southampton Town Police say they are investigating a link between recent vandalism at two cemeteries and the popular mobile game Pokémon Go, which could be coaxing young people into the burial grounds.

Earlier this month, dozens of toppled and broken headstones and other memorial markers were discovered at both the Southampton Cemetery and the nearby Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Cemetery just outside of Southampton Village. Some of the damaged stones date to the 1800s.

According to Southampton Town Police Lieutenant Susan Ralph, the department received a tip that people were playing the game in the cemeteries during the time frame in which the vandalism took place over Labor Day weekend.

“Information has been developed that the vandalism could be a result of people playing the Pokémon Go game,” she said. “There are currently no suspects, but we are chasing down those leads.”

The crime is estimated to have taken place between Saturday, September 3, and Tuesday, September 6. Southampton Cemetery had 12 tombstones turned over, with one stone broken, and Sacred Hearts had 20 tombstones turned over, with one broken as well. Lt. Ralph declined to provide any further details about the investigation.

Pokémon Go is a location-based augmented reality game that uses a mobile device’s GPS capability to locate, capture, battle, and train virtual creatures called “Pokémon” that appear on the screen as if they were in the same real-world location as the player. Certain locations, called “PokéStops” and “gyms,” are typically located at places of interest within a community—including burying grounds, some of them historic.

Signs have recently been installed in the 10 town-maintained historic burial sites that highlight a law that recreational activity is prohibited within the grounds. Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, who sits on the town’s Historical Burial Ground Committee, said the town has the law in its code. However, Pokémon Go has village and town cemeteries as locations for virtual battles, or gyms, which she said violates the town code.

“The town historian alerted me when this first started taking place, because of our concerns of the condition of some of our historic stones,” she said. “It’s not conducive for people being in our cemeteries, possibly sitting on stones, that are historic and delicate. The idea of inviting an electronic game to send people to these locations as destinations is a completely inappropriate thing to do.”

Southampton Cemetery and Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Cemetery—where the recent vandalism took place—are both private cemeteries and not considered historic, so the town code does not necessarily apply.

Since the incident, Sacred Hearts received free repairs as a donation, and Southampton Cemetery received $510 from Brockett Funeral Home’s online fundraising campaign, but most likely will need to cover the remainder of the estimated $1,400 repair bill unless they receive state funding, according to Eric Wright, the Southampton Cemetery superintendent.

According to Southampton Town Historian Zach Studenroth, the town spends time and resources working to preserve burying grounds. The town established the Historical Burial Ground Committee in 2011 and has gravestone preservation workshop scheduled for Saturday, September 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the North End Burying Ground, which is open to the public. Mr. Studenroth said he was concerned when he learned of Pokémon Go, where a map leads players to historic burying grounds, like North End Cemetery in Southampton Village.

“It occurred to me—unlike the public library—burying grounds are potentially vulnerable,” he said. “Primarily, if someone is visiting the place other than to visit, they’re somewhat unaware of what’s there. I’m as concerned with someone injuring themselves as I am with them doing damage.

“You can spend two to three hours repairing a stone, and 10 minutes damaging it,” Mr. Studenroth continued. “What we strive to do, opt on the side of caution.”

Ms. Schurmeyer said the board attempted to reach out to Pokémon service administrators about their concerns but have not been able to get through.

“There’s a level of respect that should be afforded to these places, because they’re sacred burial grounds,” she said. “We’d like them to be respected and treated as such. I think the Pokémon game is a good idea—but to send drones of people to burial grounds is extremely disrespectful. Send them to a park, beach—send them to a healthy place. These are not places that people should be sent to play a game.”

Mr. Studenroth said the new signs being installed throughout town historic burying grounds will attempt to point out acts the committee does not encourage and deter recreational activities—but he said the Pokémon Go craze is part of a larger concern.

“This historic site, without the permission of the owner, was loaded into a game,” he said. “I know this is a problem in other places. This is private property—this is really not okay. We want the site to be accessible to people, but there’s no one there [to protect the stones]. We are putting the signs up to put out some basic cautions—but Pokémon Go is still a wild card.”

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This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By SashaBoroja, on Sep 21, 16 8:25 PM
It may of lead them there but that has nothing to do with destruction or vandalism. Come on!
By jams (128), hampton bays on Sep 21, 16 9:27 PM
2 members liked this comment
Probably more of a copy-cat cat crime of the morons that pushed over “Duckbill” the sandstone rock formation on Aug. 29.
By foodwhiner (148), Southampton on Sep 22, 16 8:56 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Draggerman (940), Southampton on Sep 23, 16 7:00 AM
I think I caught a picachu in cemetery at CR39 & Henry road
By J Feces (13), Hampton bays on Sep 25, 16 7:03 PM
WOW !! Not a story to joke about !!
By toes in the water (884), southampton on Sep 26, 16 8:47 AM
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