Step aside, Ebenezer Scrooge.
The new standard for “Bah! Humbug!” now involves grave-robbing in rural Montana.
Within five days of Christmas wreaths made in Down East Maine being placed on the graves of U.S. military veterans buried in a cemetery near Kalispell, Mont., all 170 wreaths were stolen.
“We see a lot of strange things over the holidays, but this is a new low,” said Jordan White, undersheriff of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department. “It’s a very shocking and tragic event, and the community has reacted with a lot of emotion. There’s a real sense of disappointment that someone would do this, with no compassion for the families or the people who organized this wreath-laying event.”
The Dec. 10 wreath-laying ceremony at Glacier Memorial Gardens just north of the Kalispell city center was one of more than 700 similar events held at cemeteries around the country, including Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, as part of the Wreaths Across America project based in the Down East Maine community of Harrington.
Begun 20 years ago by Worcester Wreath founder Morrill Worcester, the program honors fallen veterans by having local volunteers place 12-inch wreaths decorated with red bows upon their graves.
“This year involved 322,000 wreaths and change,” Worcester said Thursday, with
32,000 donated by his company.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said of the Montana theft, “but, with 741 locations now, I suppose anything can happen. It was an isolated incident.”
Worcester said his company quickly responded to a request from the Kalispell event’s organizers to contribute an additional 100 wreaths to help replace those snatched from graves. Those donated wreaths, among others, will be used to replace the missing wreaths during a second Kalispell wreath-laying ceremony scheduled to be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 23.
The Kalispell event was organized by a regional squadron of the U.S. Civil Air Patrol. After the theft was discovered, cadets from the unit were mobilized to check every Christmas tree lot in Flathead Valley. No missing wreaths were discovered through that effort.
White said Thursday his department’s wide-ranging investigation into the grave site thefts has “run into complete dead ends.”
“There is no evidence, and there are no leads,” he said. “The wreaths were stolen before it snowed, so there are no tire tracks or footprints to work with. We activated our Crimestoppers program, which offers rewards of up to $1,000, and had no tips. We’ve broadcast attempt-to-locate requests over much of the state, and nothing has come of it.
“I think they’ve been taken the distance,” White said. “My assumption, given that we have no information, is that they were thrown in the back of a U-Haul truck and driven out of state to be sold. It’s very sad, and everybody is shocked that someone would do something like this.”
The wreaths stolen are valued at $2,500. While each wreath bore a white tag indicating that it was made for Wreaths Across America by Worcester Wreath Co. in Maine, it’s presumed those tags were removed by whoever made off with the wreaths.
A community of 20,000, Kalispell is located about 50 miles south of the U.S. border with British Columbia and is 25 miles southwest of Glacier National Park.