Owner, families: Restlawn moving in right direction

Published On: May 26 2014 04:43:55 PM EDT
Updated On: May 26 2014 07:48:18 PM EDT

You might remember the complaints we brought you about Restlawn Memorial Park on Ribault Scenic Drive: loved ones told us about deplorable conditions and even lost remains. Now, the cemetery is under new ownership... and the management says things have been cleaned up.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The Restlawn Cemeteries and Cremation Gardens on the Northside hosted a Memorial Day Celebration of Remembrance on Monday.

It was another step the new owners at the facility have taken to help rebuild the cemetery's image within the community.

Those who have loved ones at Restlawn said so far, they're pleased with the changes.

“I feel very good because I am a part of it. I am making a difference,” said James Bryant. “The community needs this, because this isn't just a black cemetery, this is a people cemetery.”

Restlawn was the subject of a Channel 4 investigation after loved ones complained about deplorable conditions and even lost bodies. Channel 4's Vic Micolucci covered the story, which included graves in the dirt, missing people and absent headstones.

But the new managers said they're making the wrongs right. And one step was Monday's celebration of both the large number of service members buried at Restlawn and the community's other loved ones laid to rest there.

Loved ones like Charlene McCrimager's sons, Ronnie and Robert Washington, who were murdered within six months of each other.

“It is, it is hard,” McCrimager said. “I go day by day. It's all I can do.”

Ronnie was one of as many as 2,000 people whose bodies must be moved after past management buried them improperly. When he was first buried at Restlawn, he was put in dirt in an old road. His family said it wasn't right.

“Knowing that he was in the road, it was difficult,” McCrimager said.

Catherine Ivey faced similar feelings because her son, Richard Key, also a murder victim, was buried in the road, too.

“I felt very hurt about it, because no one would want their loved one disrespected like that,” Ivey said. “It wasn't right.”

Ronnie Washington and Richard Key have both been moved to more appropriate locations in the cemetery.

“I am just thankful that now my son has a resting place that I feel good about,” Ivey said. “And I can be buried next to him.”

The new owner of Restlawn, Mark Riposta, who took over late last year, said he's working with the community to once again make the cemetery a peaceful place of rest. He said in his seven months of ownership, the cemetery has had only appropriate, certified burials.

“We have done quite a few things here within the cemetery,” Riposta said. “It is ongoing. We have opened up two new gardens.”

Ronnie Washington's grave was moved to one of the cemetery's gardens.

“I just come out here and sit on the bench and talk to them, basically,” McCrimager said of her sons. “I know that they are with the Lord, but it makes me feel a little better.”

Riposta has purchased property nearby to expand the cemetery. He said there is space for all the graves that need to be moved, and his staff is working hard to make the families comfortable and happy.

Riposta said it could take a couple of years to move all 2,000 graves. It's a difficult, expensive process, but he said it's the right thing to do. He asked for patience and promised a cemetery everyone in the neighborhood can be proud of.

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