SOUTH BEND – South Bend's historic and oldest cemetery is now a target for vandals.
The City Cemetery off of Elm Street, just west of downtown, opened in 1831.
"You can see this one; there's one right next to it, and another one right there," said Steve Nemeth surveying the damage.
Nemeth is Supervisor of Maintenance with the Parks Department. Every where you look, grand historic headstones have been pushed over.
"One, two, three...there's four pieces to this one," counts Nemeth. "Just standing right here, you can find 10 new ones just in this area."
Nemeth says vandalism has gotten so bad, the gates are now locked at night, and "No Trespassing" warning signs were put up last week.
"It's very dangerous. These things are extremely heavy. Someone could get hurt or worse, and besides all that, it's very disrespectful."
Nemeth says maintenance workers caught several teenagers knocking over grave markers weeks ago and scared them out of the cemetery.
"It hits you in the heart," says Elicia Feasel with the Historic Preservation Commission of South Bend and St. Joseph County.
Straight in the heart of South Bend's history, buried in City Cemetary is a Studebaker brother, Laythrup Taylor, the founder of South Bend, and Schuyler Colfax, Vice President of the United States under Ulysses Grant, just to name a few historical figures.
Feasel hopes to curb the vandalism by visiting area schools and offering presentations teaching kids about those resting under the tombstones.
"You can really learn the history of the whole town just by spending a day in the South Bend City Cemetary," adds Feasel.
This fall several community groups will be working together to start surveying all the damage. Counting exactly how many stones are broken and what materials are needed to fix them. Nemeth say the repair work could take months if not years to complete.
Cemetary gates are now locked from 7 p.m. at night to 8 a.m. The police have also been asked to keep a closer eye on the grounds. Vandals can be charged with a felony or misdemeanor and required to pay thousands of dollars in restitution.