Manufacturer apologizes to family after repossessing 5-year-old’s grave marker

UPDATE: The monument company has issued an apology to the family and says it will mark their bill as paid in full. They also say they will re-install the grave marker. Our story below has been updated.

(CNN) — Grieving parents in North Carolina say their 5-year-old son’s grave marker has been repossessed by the company that made it.

It’s been nearly a year since Wayne and Crystal Leatherman buried their son Jake after he lost a long battle with Leukemia.

Crystal said she was stunned when she recently went to visit her little boy’s gravesite, only to find the marker gone.

The owner of the monument company removed the stone after he says the family didn’t pay the money they owed.

“He repossessed it, like it was a car,” she said. “This is my lowest point. He don’t care.”

J.C. Shoaf with Southestern Monuments said the couple did pay in full for a stone, but later made a number of changes, which added up to a larger bill.

“If you buy something, you’ve got to pay for it. No matter what it is,” Shoaf said. “It was my first time in 56 years I’ve had this problem.”

When asked why he placed the stone without a full payment, Schoaf says he did it out of goodwill to the couple.

“Because the family had been through so much emotionally, grieving so hard, I thought we’d just go ahead and do it,” he said.

The Leathermans, meanwhile, say they were never told about any increase in cost.

“If I would have owed him the money I would have paid him,” Wayne said. “This is not something you argue over.”

Schoaf admits he feels for the family, but says it comes down to paying his workers.

“They’ve been through an awful lot, I know that. And right now they’re thinking emotionally, and having that grave out there unmarked, that’s emotional trauma,” he said. “I know. I lost a child, I know what that is.”

Schoaf has since changed his tune after the family’s story made national headlines. He offered an apology to the family, and issued a statement to WBTV:

“We’d like very much so to return the grave marker back to Woodlawn Cemetery and give our appreciation to the media for helping us get this resolved, that the family would not owe us anything, we will mark their bill paid in full. We waive all expenses from the Leatherman family. If there are any charges to be paid to the cemetery to have this reinstalled, we will pay all expenses for doing that, and we’re sorry this has happened.”

The family asked on Tuesday that anyone wanting to give money should instead donate to local children’s hospitals in Jake Leatherman’s name.


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