What Schmidt Funeral Home described as a routine cleaning has left families distraught over what they describe as grave desecration. Personal effects, crosses, and flower beds were removed and thrown in dumpsters, alarming families who found their loved ones’ gravestones bare and unrecognizable. Multiple attempts to reach Schmidt Funeral Home for comment went unanswered. Below is a letter written by two affected family members, Lisa Gonzales and Rhonda Salveski, which was sent to Cyndi Hoots at Schmidt, as well as numerous government officials and media in an attempt to bring attention to this story.
Dear Ms. Cyndi Hoots,
Recently, on January 19th, Rhonda Salveski and I, (Lisa Gonzales) received frantic calls from concerned friends and family of items that had been on our loved one’s graves were sitting by the trash dumpster at Katy Magnolia Cemetery. She rushed from Tomball and I rushed from my home in Katy (unbeknownst to each other) to witness for ourselves the desecration of our loved one’s graves. Upon arrival, we found items that not only belonged to our ones but many others we know as well! The items included headstones, benches, crosses and other religious items. They all were next to the dumpster.
My daughters began digging in the dumpster and found fresh flowers, grave markers, flags and more items. Rhonda Salveski called Schmidt Funeral home and spoke to Jordan Mullens and Cyndi Hoots, who told her that signs had been placed at the cemetery three weeks in advance that a “cleaning” would be taking place in the “new” section the cemetery. Cyndi, unsympathetically told her that all items that did not fit in the trash were taken to the dump. She retrieved two of her son’s mementos, but his other items could not be retrieved. I, too, spoke to Cyndi Hoots who claimed that the signs were placed three weeks in advance. Neither Rhonda, nor I saw the signs they said were up during the month of December we were both there! I was there a total of three times from the first week of December to the first week of January, as my mother is buried there and best friend as well. Rhonda’s son, who was killed by an illegal alien, is also buried in this cemetery. The only sign I saw was a small (11×14) type sign attached to the rope barricade that indicated a cleaning of the new section would take place on January 15th, 2021. Neither of us understood that our loved ones were in the new section and the cleaning would be anything more than routine cleaning of old flowers or Christmas décor not claimed. This was not a cleaning, but, this was theft of grave goods and funerary objects! This is NO WAY to communicate a radical type of action that was carried out!
There are no signs in this cemetery that indicate what is new and what is old parts of the cemetery. Our items (brick flower bed, chimes, solar lights, personal mementos or stones have been untouched and allowed for over 20 years.
We also called Katy Heritage Society and the City of Katy to find out where we could get a name or names of anyone we could discuss these issues with. No one seemed to have any information. I called Schmidt Funeral home again and Cyndi Hoots finally admitted me (Lisa Gonzales) that the signs did not go up until after Christmas because they were not ready in time. She brought up our “signed contract” we (or my father in my case) initialed regarding the stringent restrictions of what is and isn’t allowed on the graves. Although the contract my dad signed was 9 years old and Rhonda’s over 14, we feel the lack of ever getting a notice of violation or warning about our violations makes the contract meaningless. We both have many plots in that cemetery and many loved ones or friends in this cemetery. Never has anyone been notified of violations despite that our contact information has never changed. We are regular visitors in this cemetery.
What sold us on this cemetery in the first place is the instant warmth and peace when entering and visiting because of the items like what they removed. The lights were beautiful and the chimes very peaceful. It was obvious that the people buried here were loved and not forgotten. Things like chimes, parking meter (which is still there and not removed although it violates the restrictions) are the things that make this cemetery stand out from other drab, cold and depressing places. It was a place we and other families could go and feel close to their loved ones. This was especially warm and peaceful just about dusk or sunrise because the solar lights were lit up and one could hear the chimes. It was a place of solace and a comforting place for so many. Now, it is cold, drab and depressing like most other cemeteries unless, of course you have a loved one in the old section or have “connections” in the new section!
The “old” section is permitted to have these items. We feel that when entering now, it appears as though it is like a cake that half–iced and decorated and the other half has no icing or décor at all. People do not feel like they can come and visit their loved ones with the same feelings they had before everything was removed and tossed into the trash. It is as if these people buried in new section DO NOT MATTER!
One of the reasons we were given for removal of our items is “safety concerns”. We do not believe that is a valid reason, as there are many things about a cemetery that makes it unsafe other that the removal of precious items at loved one’s graves. There are acorns by the thousands, that I, myself have “skied” on, mud holes, water spickets with hoses laying on the ground; graves so crowded that there is no place to walk to get to our loved ones graves without stepping on others. If worried about a lawsuit, perhaps a sign needs to be erected that says, “Enter at your own risk” or “Do not allow your children to play unattended” would be more appropriate.
Due to the lack of concern and the fact we felt we had no place to turn that would be willing to apologize or give us a valid reason why this “desecration” was ordered, we went to a local news outlet (KPRC Houston) and they did a story on it. We posted pictures on social media of the items that were sitting near the dumpster, in an attempt to find the rightful owners. We called the fire department and the VFW to let them know that they had items belonging to a fireman and a WWll veteran sitting at the dumpster in hopes they could return those items to the rightful owners. Some of the items have been retrieved as the word got around what was there waiting to be thrown away. There are still crosses and a headstone there. There had been a baby’s headstone and a flag from a child who drowned at age 2, handmade mementos, etc. The flowers my daughter pulled out of the dumpster had to be from a fresh burial as the real flowers had not even wilted yet.
The sentiment that these families whose items were trashed is that they feel their loved one’s graves have been desecrated with no respect for the dead or the people who grieve for their lives all these years later. We all are reliving our loved one’s death by seeing their precious things gone or sitting at a dumpster to be thrown away as if they don’t matter!
We are requesting for these items that have been allowed to remain for 20+ years to be allowed in the “new” section as they are in the other section. Many took great care of their items and replaced ones that looked old or no longer worked.
- The items we are asking to be allowed are chimes, small brick or stone flower beds (that don’t encroach on another’s grave), shepherds hooks, and solar lights that are safely within the stone or brick around headstones.
- We ask that a public apology be made
- Find the owners of the items still at the dumpster (they have their names on them)
- Create a more efficient way of communicating violations
- A face-to-face meeting with BOD members
- Signs to be placed in the cemetery that indicate clearly what is the new section and what is the old section.
- A response to this letter no later than Feb 14th, 2021
Since we have drafted this letter, we saw an article in the Katy Times from another broken-hearted family. We are not the only ones affected by this egregious act. Many families have been impacted by the lack of empathy, concern or respect that has been shown to the people who have bought in this cemetery and used products from this funeral home. You would think that of all the entities involved, Schmidt Funeral Homes would stand up for the very community they have greatly prospered from.
In closing, we want back what made this cemetery so appealing for us to choose to bury our precious loved ones (and ourselves) in the first place. We don’t want people hurt anymore. Many have been devastated by this. This cemetery has many, many long-time Katy residents and everyone knows someone that is buried here. Its charm echoed from within to so many. We understand “routine” cleaning and encourage that. However, the items mentioned should not be part of the cleaning process. The new section makes up the largest portion of the cemetery and the charm has been yanked from it! It no longer feels like the warm, loving happy, peaceful place it once was. It is unconscionable the desecration you have allowed. You should be ashamed!