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Family sad that sacred items left on murdered woman’s grave were moved

DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. — A missing butterfly may not cause much concern for many people, but to the five-year-old daughter visiting her mother’s grave, it does.

“Her daughter puts the stuff out there for a reason,” says the mother’s older sister Kelly Lipford, who is now in custody of the young girl. “It should not be messed with.”

28-year-old Catherine Lipford was murdered in Hopewell on June 28, 2014. After many visits to St. John's Catholic Church Cemetery in Dinwiddie, her sister says this is the third incident that she and her family have discovered someone has tampered with the assortment of trinkets that decorate Catherine’s grave marker. Among those belongings are butterflies, flags, flowers, and angels.

Lipford says when they visited Sunday, they found some of the belongings thrown in the creek alongside the church.

“Two of (the angels) were broken, so we had to actually throw them away, and the third one we put back, which was not there Sunday when we arrived,” said Lipford. “They personally had to take the porcelain angels and throw them into the creek, it’s really sad.”

A flagpole and other items have been moved to several other headstones, including their fathers, who Catherine is buried beside.

Church leaders say this is the first issue they’ve had concerning the graveyard and only learned about this problem Tuesday morning.

“They’re saying it’s the wind, when we have storms and in some instances I can agree with that,” says Lipford but she is quick to add “The wind isn’t going to pick a flagpole up and put it back on someone else’s headstone, one which happens to be my fathers.”

Even more disheartening, it is left up to Kelly to explain to the young daughter what has happened to her mother’s grave.

“Sunday when we had gone out there, her daughter had previously put a purple butterfly on her headstone, and that had been moved to a total different headstone. Her daughter found it and brought it back.”

Lipford said that when the young girl found the butterfly, she actually asked if her mother moved it because she “didn’t like it.”

“That was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to try to answer for her.”

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond issued this statement:

“We deeply regret any pain or distress the Lipford family has endured as a result of any movement of personal memorial symbols and objects. The cemetery is sacred ground for families to visit and remember their loved ones where they can continue to pray for them. Unfortunately, from time-to-time cemeteries are not immune to items being moved, broken, misplaced, or unintentionally rearranged due to weather conditions or grounds maintenance. If this happens, we encourage loved ones to notify the church and pastor, so they are aware and in order to better serve the families who have entrusted their deceased to the care of the parish. We keep in prayer all those families who are still grieving the loss of a loved one.“

Grace Winfield wrote this story.