WARWICK, RI — Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Director Kasim Yarn and his staff have apologized to 21 families of loved ones whose grave markers were misaligned at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter due to a 2010 grounds crew mistake that also misplaced seven of the graves, all of which were corrected over the weekend.
Yarn said the error was discovered Thursday, Jan. 19, when the grounds crew was preparing for an internment and discovered a casket liner – which seals the interred – while digging the new grave.
“That was our first indication that something was not right,” Yarn said. Since light was fading for the day, work was suspended and a comprehensive review was done the following day, he said.
The liner was not disturbed. Yarn credited the new Veterans Cemetery Administrator, Cara Condit, with establishing the procedures that helped them discover the error.
On Friday, Yarn and his employees reviewed the last six years at the cemetery, uncovering the cause of the mis-aligned graves.
In November 2010, extra space was left between two grave sites to allow for the transfer of the remains of a father of a recently-buried veteran. That reserved space was enough for two burial plots, but the extra space was not taken into account when the permanent grave markers were put into place the following spring. As a result, each of those grave markers were off by one grave site, Yarn explained in a statement.
“The cemetery’s burial plots can accommodate two layers of cement vaults to allow a veteran and a family member to be interred in the same plot. Regrettably, when seven additional cement vaults were added to the misaligned row, they were buried in the adjacent plot by mistake. To correct this issue, the Veterans Cemetery grounds crew properly aligned all of the grave markers over the weekend and shifted the seven cement vaults on the top level over to the adjacent grave site to align them properly with those on the lower level,” Yarn said.
Starting Saturday and working until late Sunday, cemetery staff relocated the twenty-one head stones one plot to the right, and seven vaults (lined caskets) were also shifted one plot to the right, Yarn said. None of the seals on the caskets were broken in the process, he said.
Yarn and Condit held a press conference at the Warwick Veterans Service Center, 560 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI at 3:30 p.m. Monday to publicly apologize for the error.
“I extend my most sincere apologies to all of the families impacted by this unacceptable mistake. Our Veterans and their families make tremendous sacrifices for our nation and we owe each of them respect and dignity, especially in their final resting place,” said Yarn. “We believe this is an isolated incident and have made every effort to contact the families. Additionally, we are taking immediate steps to strengthen our processes to ensure a mistake like this never happens again.”
The people in leadership at the Cemetery during that period of time are no longer employed by the Office of Veterans Affairs, Yarn said.
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