Lawmakers hear tearful testimony over cemetery controversy

Owners of cemetery near Morgantown not allowing graveside visits

Lawmakers hear testimony over cemetery; video report by WFMZ's Alexandra Hogan

CAERNARVON TWP., Pa. - Community members gave Pennsylvania lawmakers tearful testimonies after the owners of Rock Cemetery in Caernarvon Township filed a lawsuit against trespassers.

"The dead are there. They're ours. It's not their property. It's not real estate. It's our hearts laying there waiting," said William Miller, a panel speaker.

Families on Tuesday asked state lawmakers to make things right.

"We have a fundamental responsibility as legislators to right this wrong, and that's why I've started the House Bill 2228, to allow reasonable access," said Rep. Mark Gillen, a Berks County Republican.

The Dovin family, which bought the property in 2010, didn't attend the hearing, but did release a statement through its attorney.

"House Bill 2228 — clearly conceived to address a discrete issue — will impact thousands of Pennsylvania landowners by effectively turning their private property into public land," said Charles Gebron, the Dovins' attorney.

While legislation exists in other states, no Pennsylvania law states the right of individuals to visit a grave yard on private property.

"Pennsylvania law is unclear. We'd like to make it clear," Gillen said.

Gillen said the bill would allow family to visit during daytime hours. If owners don't allow loved ones on the property, they could be charged with a misdemeanor.

After the hearing, lawmakers visited the cemetery for themselves.

Jerry Shepherd and his wife bought their plots in 1994. Shepherd's wife now suffers from dementia, and Jerry worries the Dovins will not honor their purchase. He still holds onto his receipt.

Hazel Hamm bought her plot 30 years ago and buried her husband 20 years ago. Her name is already carved into the tombstone beside her late spouse.

"It's ours. We paid for it," Hazel said.

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