A Hickory family found this when they visited the grave of their 5-year-old son. Coming up at 5, I'll tell you why the marker is missing pic.twitter.com/wdyIJ32aNF— Kristen Hampton WBTV (@KHamptonWBTV) October 17, 2017
Heartless doesn’t even begin to describe the actions of a North Carolina pastor who had the audacity to “repossess” a deceased child’s grave marker.
Wayne and Crystal Leatherman buried their 5-year-old son, Jake, a year ago after he died of leukemia, Alternet reports. Unable to afford updates to the headstone themselves, JC Shoaf — a Baptist minister who owns Southeastern Monument company — footed the bill for the grieving family.
Apparently, the family initially paid outright for the headstone, but later requested several changes, which “added 400 pounds to the size of the marker and $2,500 in additional costs,” according to The News & Observer. The agreement was for the family to repay the money, but they were not keeping up with their account.
“He repossessed it, like it was a car,” Crystal Leatherman told WBTV.
Shoaf maintains that he told the parents the consequences if they didn’t pay up.
“If you buy something, you’ve got to pay for it. No matter what it is,” Shoaf reportedly said. “I told [Wayne] I would take it up if they didn’t pay. I was told: ‘Go ahead.’ They probably owe less than $1,000 on it.”
However, the family insists that they were never notified that their account was overdue or that the headstone was in jeopardy of being removed. They claim the first time they knew of the discrepancy was when they went to visit the grave site and the marker wasn’t there.
“If I would have owed him the money I would have paid him,” Crystal Leatherman told WBTV. “This is not something you argue over.”
Although Shoaf defended his actions, he did acknowledge the error of his ways.
“I hated to do it. I’m not heartless and I have had a child die, so I know how it feels. But what was I to do? I thought having [the marker] would give me some leverage. In hindsight, I should have just written it up as a bad debt. ... This could ruin my reputation. Hopefully, we can get this resolved, even if I take a loss on it.”
While Shoaf seems regretful, it's difficult to trust the sincerity behind it. Is he actually apologetic or is he just trying to save his business's reputation? Taking the marker in the first place went entirely too far, and the child didn't deserve to be used as a pawn to settle a monetary dispute.