Families demand state investigation into Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside

Families with loved ones buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside lined up outside the management office on Monday. They wanted to know if their relatives’ remains were disturbed.

News 12 Staff

May 3, 2021, 9:48 AM

Updated 1,079 days ago

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Families with loved ones buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside lined up outside the management office on Monday. They wanted to know if their relatives’ remains were disturbed.
Many had seen News 12 New Jersey’s report about a family that found their grandmother’s coffin partially unearthed and open.
“I want to know where my mother is. That’s all I want to know,” says Wanda Warren, of Irvington.
Warren buried her mother Bernice at the cemetery in 2019. On Monday, she found no grave marker and looked as if the grave had been dug up and covered with fresh dirt.
“When I went back, this ground has been disturbed,” Warren says. “I don’t know if they have other people in the grave.”
Clarence Chislun, of Hillside, came to find out why a cross at his mother’s gravesite was gone.
“It had a big cross with my mother’s picture there and its gone,” he says. “They claim they don’t know what happened to it.”
Chislun says that when he asked last week about the cross, cemetery management told him to get a lawyer. Management has not offered any explanation to the families or to News 12.
News 12 reported last week about the family of Paula Smith, who was buried at the cemetery on April 21. The family provided photos that showed Smith’s coffin uncovered and partially open four days later. The family says that they are not even sure if Smith’s body is still there.
After hearing that others came to check, sisters Kechia James and Crystal Gilmore were led to their mom's plot by a cemetery worker. They said that their mother’s grave did not appear to be disturbed.
Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese says that she is appalled by what is going on.
"Like everyone else I can't understand or I don't have a reasonable explanation as to how or why this happened. And I do think people deserve answers,” she says.
The mayor has been on the phone with the families. She says that the state should get involved to investigate how the remains are being treated.
News 12 has learned that the families are considering filing a class-action lawsuit and some families want their relatives exhumed to see if the remains are where they are supposed to be.
State Assemblyman Jamel Holley is reaching out to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs to investigate the situation. Cemeteries are regulated by the state.


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