Gulfport cemetery mix-up leaves one family with heartbreak, demanding answers

Not only is granite missing, the family claims the cemetery double sold a plot.
Not only is granite missing, the family claims the cemetery double sold a plot.(Terry Smiley)
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 8:46 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - “They screwed up.”

Those are the words of family members who say their mother’s headstone was damaged at Floral Hills Memorial Garden cemetery in Gulfport.

The damage wasn’t the only problem. Family members say a plot was double sold. Now, that family is demanding that the cemetery correct the mix-up.

A family cemetery plot rests in peace for nearly 28 years at Floral Hills Memorial Gardens.

“This is my mother and son’s resting place,” Terry Smiley said. “This was a place that was hard to come to at first, but it grew special in my heart over the years.”

In April 1994, a tornado tore through Woolmarket, collapsing homes and killing Suzanne Smiley, 57, and her grandson Ralph Rush Little III, 8.

It was a devastating disaster. Now, the family left behind is hit with yet another blow.

“We’ve been bringing flowers here since ‘94,” Brad Smiley said. “I came to bring flowers about a month ago and couldn’t find the plot, couldn’t find the grave.”

That’s because the plot is now unrecognizable. A bad dream, as the family describes it.

“I noticed a big pile of dirt here, and then I looked beside the dirt and there was my mother’s (grave),” Smiley said. “The granite is cut off and the vase is gone. I had to sit flowers in the dirt. I left here about to throw up, sick to my stomach.”

“Everything that we knew here for 28 years on her side has been basically torn up, taken, and destroyed - probably about $9,000 (worth),” sister Terry Smiley said.

WLOX compared photos of the gravesites before and after the damage. The missing granite has now been replaced by another burial plot. However, Terry Smiley said this was supposed to be her plot - buried next to her mother. When she initially showed cemetery administrators the paperwork to prove it, she said she was offered a plot in a separate location.

“It just goes on and on and on,” Brad Smiley said. “We could have her son moved, but he would be by a stranger somewhere else in the cemetery or they could give us another plot and my sister be off somewhere in the cemetery by a stranger.”

The cemetery owner showed up while our cameras were rolling. He demanded proof of ownership from the family - something Terry said she has already provided multiple times.

“Today we show up and the owner happens to be here who they were having me hunt down so he wants to try to fix this,” Smiley said.

That’s what the family is hoping after afternoon meetings with those who run the cemetery.

“I just don’t want this to happen to somebody else,” Smiley said.

Cemetery owners refused to speak on camera. After providing more copies of the paperwork, the family said replacement granite was ordered for their mom’s grave. Unfortunately, due to a granite shortage, it could take up to eight months to get here. As for the new plot, they are still waiting to see what will be done.

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