Teens facing charges for desecrating gravestones with hate graffiti at Hampton cemetery
HAMPTON — Five teenagers are facing criminal charges in juvenile court for allegedly desecrating 25 gravestones at the High Street Cemetery.
Hampton police Capt. Anthony Azarian said the department was notified by a local citizen that vandals struck the town cemetery across from Hampton Academy, significantly defacing numerous gravestones.
In less than a week, he said, investigators tracked down five teenage boys believed to be responsible for the crime.
Police said evidence shows the vandalism took place at the cemetery on Friday afternoon, March 17. It includes racial slurs, profanities, anti-law enforcement messages and other random symbols and graffiti sprayed on stones and monuments in red and black paint. In addition, Azarian said similar graffiti was found in a bathroom at the Hampton Lane Memorial Library which was traced back to the same youths.
The teens to be charged range in age from 14 to 16 and attend Winnacunnet High School, Azarian said. Four live in Hampton and one in Seabrook, he added.
Azarian said the juvenile petitions to be filed with juvenile/family court could include one or all three possible charges of criminal mischief and theft for unauthorized taking (the cans of spray paint), both misdemeanors, as well as interfering with a cemetery or burial ground, which is a Class B felony. Azarian does not believe the prosecutor intends to file a hate crime juvenile petition against the teens for the racial epithets.
According to Azarian, spray paint cans found at the scene provided important evidence.
“We believe they were stolen from Hampton Hardware,” Azarian said. “And the surveillance footage from Hampton Hardware provides some of the most beneficial evidence we had in tracking down those responsible.”
Camera footage from the hardware store as well as other surveillance footage in the vicinity was reviewed by investigators, who then worked with school resource officers to identify those police believe were involved, Azarian said.
The final cost to repair the damage isn’t yet known.
Azarian said town employees are working on removing the paint from the memorial stones. In some cases, they have been successful, according to Azarian. But for other defaced stones, he said the town is seeking out specialized vendors who can remove the paint without damaging the grave markers.
Azarian gave credit to the team of patrol officers and detectives who, he said, “did a very thorough job” tracking down those responsible for the vandalism.
“We always investigate criminal mischief, but our officers recognize the magnitude of the offense this causes family members when something like this happens,” Azarian said. “This can be devastating for those who had the gravestones of loved ones defaced. It’s very sad.”