MECKLENBURG COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - Sheriff's deputies have been ordered to check over 300 church cemeteries and graveyards throughout Mecklenburg County after investigators discovered two grave sites had been recently dug up.
"The graves were tampered with, but we're trying to determine if anything was taken," Mecklenburg County Sheriff Bobby Hawkins said of the incidents which he called "bizarre."
"I've been in law enforcement for 37 years and this is a first for me," he said. "It's hard to explain when you see something like this."
The investigation started Monday when the Sheriff's Office received a call that it appeared as if someone tampered with a grave site at a church cemetery in La Crosse, Virginia.
When investigators arrived, Sheriff Hawkins said they found dirt had been removed and replaced. When investigators dug down to the casket, they determined it had been compromised.
Sheriff Hawkins said he then ordered his deputies to inspect other church graveyard and cemeteries.
During an inspection on Tuesday, Hawkins said a deputy discovered another tampered grave. This one about four miles from the first.
A 44-year-old Georgia woman was buried in the first tampered grave, the sheriff said. A seven-month-old boy was buried in the second.
The child died in 1999.
The first unusual cemetery discovery happened two weeks ago when a family friend noticed a grave in the Canaan Church Cemetery, also in La Crosse, with some upturned dirt next to it. He thought the cemetery was re-sodding the lawn.
When he returned on Monday to check it out, he found the grave, belonging to a woman in her 40s who died in 2000, had been dug up.
We talked to family members of the woman off camera. They said she was buried with just her Bible, and they do not know of any connection between her and the baby. The family wonders if this is the work of a cult.
“Maybe they were looking for a female,” Major Edmonds said of the perpetrators.
Still, the question remains why.
“I don't understand it," Major Edmonds said.
The Sheriff’s Department is not ruling anything out, including theft and something more sinister.
“I don't know if it's a cult situation or not, that's been thrown around, but I have nothing to substantiate that,” Major Edmonds said.
Investigators have not yet determined if any items or human remains were taken from the grave sites.
Families members of the deceased have been notified about the investigations.
"If you have a loved one buried at a cemetery go check and make sure everything is in order," Sheriff Hawkins warned people in his county. "This is a hard thing. A cemetery is considered a sacred place. Having to do what we're doing right now is hard on all of us."
Sheriff Hawkins said he contacted Virginia State Police to determine whether police and sheriff's department in other cities have experienced similar crimes.