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Outraged Family Finds Dozens Of Headstones Damaged At Cemetery In New Jersey

NORTH BERGEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- A family in New Jersey made a shocking discovery at a cemetery in North Bergen. They were trying to pay respects to several of their deceased relatives, but were outraged to find dozens of headstones damaged or overturned.

With headstones under tree trunks, overturned or dug up, the Weehawken Cemetery looks more like a construction site. Frank Ciappi says his family members' graves were spared, but he was horrified when he stumbled on the distressing scene.

"Could you imagine showing up and seeing these branches, trunks just laying over the sites of your loved ones," he said. "How can you disturb grave sites 100 years old for business? What about the people up there? What do you do with them?

What was once grass and soil is now covered in wood chips, with many of the large trunks stacked around graves along a steep hill.

"If someone walks in front, one of these tree trunks could easily slide down and kill somebody," Ciappi said.

No one answered at the cemetery's management office, and manager Michael Baratta told CBS2 in a statement the trees were removed "to beautify the entire cemetery."

"We have professionals removing the trees so it's being managed and nothing is dangerous," the statement continued. "During this work we uncovered those memorials and have every intention once the work is completed to erect them."

Ciappi calls what's been done "a crime."

"I don't know how they're allowed to do this," he said. "How can you disturb grave sites like this? These are people's families... this is so disrespectful."

The North Bergen Building Department says since the cemetery isn't owned by the town, management doesn't need town permits to clear the trees.

In a statement, the New Jersey Cemetery Board said:

Officials from North Bergen township have contacted the New Jersey Cemetery Board regarding the removal of trees at Weehawkin Cemetery. The Board is looking into the matter and will take appropriate action, if necessary.

They added the matter is under review.

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