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Human remains in plain sight

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Updated: 11/05/2013 10:29 am
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few steps into a Jacksonville cemetery there is something so disturbing, it's hard to miss.

Joseph Cokley was born 1880.  The cemetery doesn't know when he died, but in 2013, we do know he can be seen again.

While investigating another story, we stumbled upon his skull. It can be seen through his cracked vault lid. 

We took the disgraceful discovery straight to the cemetery's caretaker, the City of Jacksonville.

Tera Meeks is the Director of Waterfront Management Programming for the city.  She also oversees the city's parks department, which is in charge of a handful of abandoned cemeteries in Jacksonville.

"Most likely this particular vault lid was popped by individuals for particular items of value," Meeks said.

"Vandals, or grave robbers?" Lynnsey Gardner asked.

"Vandalism and grave robbers, yes ma'am," Meeks replied.

The city now thinks growing tree roots caused the vault to shift and open.

We first told the city about this issue on September 27th and we went back to working on our original story.

But a month later, we came back to Mount Olive and found Cokley still peeking out from the grave.

"I think we take vandalism very seriously at all of our cities and all of our parks," Meeks told us in September.

Meeks says fixing the vault is complex.

"At the very least, could you go out there and cover it with a temporary closure?" Gardner asked.

"It's not quite as easy as going out there and moving stuff around or installing something new over it," Meeks replied.  "We have to make sure we follow regulations."

We also found Cokley is not alone.  Just next to his grave site, there is a child with no name and her grave is coming open, too.

We checked and found no laws being broken by leaving Cokley or this child in plain sight.  But we bury our dead to rest; to be remembered with dignity and not to be disgraced by damage.

Meanwhile, Meeks told Action News the cleanup at Mount Olive is extensive and ongoing. "In three months it's not going to be resolved, it's going to be an ongoing step process."

The city did enclose Cokley's vault on Friday, November 1st.  They moved the lid to cover the vault, then used concrete to help seal it.

They have also replaced lids on five other vaults because the original lids were in poor condition.

The city spent $1825 from a cemetery maintenance fund to cover the repairs.

Crews still have plans to enclose the child's grave.
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