"What the hell?" That was Renee McCarrison's response to the news her sister Judith Scott's Rotorua grave was "smashed". And after seeing the damage with her own eyes, she realised Scott's wasn't the only one in a sorry state. Scattered steel tubes and fittings, shredded rubber and tyre marks suggest a vehicle came off State Highway 5, over the grass rise and over graves and through a gap in the wooden fence in the cemetery's front left corner. The disturbing event has brought up hurt, grief, and new concerns, but it has also sparked uplifting generosity.
David Tomlinson decided he'd "do something to help his community" when he read about the Kauae Cemetery headstones that had been broken and brought to the ground last week.
The Ngongotahā-based stonemason, who runs Creative Stone Rotorua, is helping dry the tears of the heartbroken family members by repairing the graves free of charge.
He met with Rotorua Lakes Council staff at the sites this morning to establish the repair work and time required, getting to work this afternoon.
Tomlinson told the Rotorua Daily Post the concrete and plastering had been broken, but thankfully the granite pieces were relatively unscathed.
"That's extraordinary considering what appears to have happened."
He said whoever was responsible had made the situation much worse by staying silent.
"We all make mistakes, but it's such a shame they haven't had the balls to man up. If they're identified, I hope they're made to visit the families and apologise."
Sherrill McCarrison said she still felt "sick to my guts" after seeing the damage.
Her broken-hearted niece called on Friday night saying, "They've smashed up Mum's grave."
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McCarrison got in the car and drove out in the dark.
"And then I saw all that and I was just absolutely gutted. We couldn't even find the headstone at first. We've tidied up what we can since so it looks much better than it did. But there's nothing holding the headstone there, we just stood it up again. It hurts."
They then realised there were other graves damaged too.
"You lay people to rest, leave them alone. They can't protect themselves. Whatever scumbag's done this and thinks they're tough, they're just lowlife scum ..."
McCarrison is grateful for Tomlinson's generosity and has also had others approach her with similar offers of help, but her main concern is whether vandals will return.
She is calling for the Rotorua Lakes Council to put security cameras and/or guards in all its cemeteries, to protect the dead.
"The police can't be everywhere at once.
"Every grave, there's heartache around every person who's been buried here, and we want to know that when we pay to put them to rest, they are safe."
Other residents have called for the cemetery to be locked at night.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, who is also chairwoman of the Kauae Cemetery Trust Board, said the damage was "absolutely disappointing".
"Cemeteries are community facilities that should be respected. The consensus among the board members has always been that people should be able to visit their loved ones at any time of the day or night so locking the cemetery is not an option."
She said the trust board met the week before the graves were hit.
"It was decided improvements such as fencing and parking would be investigated for the cemetery."
She said these measures would help prevent further damage.
Sports, recreation and environment manager Rob Pitkethley said due to the age of the stones, the council had been unable to contact all of the families affected.
"Council has worked with the Kauae Cemetery Trust Board on various improvements during the past couple of years. Trees that bordered the cemetery and State Highway 5 were removed which has opened up the area and improved visibility.
"Work has also been undertaken to protect the grave sites better by defining the road areas more clearly through the addition of kerbing and more bollards."
He said this was the second time headstones had been damaged at Kauae Cemetery in the past two years.
Children's graves were also targeted by vandals at Rotorua Cemetery in Sala St in October 2013.
Davina Trebilock spotted the damage at Kauae Cemetery on Anzac Day when she went to visit her parents' graves.
Theirs were not damaged but she said the discovery was "disgusting".
"I lost it, I was crying. When you go up there and see that sort of damage done to headstones, that's just having no respect."
Police want to hear from anyone with information about the damage.