Parents Say 5-Year-Old's Headstone Was 'Repossessed' After a Dispute Over Payment

5-year-old's gravestone repossessed
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The loss of a child is something that most parents struggle to even imagine. But for many mothers and fathers, it is a reality that they are forced to bear. Two North Carolina parents are dealing with something that makes the loss of their son even more difficult after the 5-year-old's gravestone was repossessed over an unpaid bill.

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On November 1, 2016, 5-year-old Jake Leatherman passed away after a long battle with juvenile leukemia. His parents, Crystal and Wayne Leatherman, ordered a special, customized gravemarker to commemorate his resting place. 

Nearly a year after its installation, the gravestone was repossessed by the company that made it -- Southeastern Monument company. 


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Crystal Leatherman says she discovered the stone missing when she went to visit her son's grave on October 9. Left behind was a large hole in the mud. 

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Both Crystal and her husband Wayne were angered and distraught to discover that their son's gravestone had been taken. "He repossessed it, like it was a car," Crystal told local WBTV News. "That was my lowest point."

According to Reverend J.C. Shoaf, who runs Southeastern Monument company, the gravestone had been taken after a monthlong dispute over an unpaid bill. Shoaf claims that while the family did pay the initial amount due for the stone, they had yet to settle the charges accrued due to additional changes they made to the design. 

The Leathermans, however, claim that they had not been made aware of any increase in cost but would have had no difficulty paying had they known. "He never once brought up extra charges," Wayne Leatherman told the Charlotte Observer. "We could have paid them, if he brought them up. This is our little boy. We spent two years in the hospital with him and this marker is what my wife wanted for him."

On Tuesday, the father said that the incident has made it even harder for him to visit his son's gravesite. "Disbelief? Anger? I don't know how to put this into words," he said. "I had a hard time going to the grave anyway, but now there's a hole there. It's just wrong."

After an outcry of support for the Leatherman family and backlash for his actions, Shoaf admitted that he regretted his decision to repossess the gravestone. "I lost a child, I know what that is," he told WBTV. 

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He and his company have since made the decision to attempt to return Jake's gravestone and waive any additional fees for the parents. In a statement to WBTV on Tuesday, he said, "We waive all expenses from the Leatherman family. If there are charges to be paid to the cemetery to have this reinstalled, we will pay all expenses for doing that ... In hindsight, it was a big mistake to have the cemetery remove it, we see it now, but we do offer the family our condolence and forgiveness ... It has hurt everybody involved, and we hope they have it in their heart to forgive us for it. Our prayers are with the family, and we hope we can be friends down the road."

Prior to the apology, it was reported by WBTV News that the family was planning on hiring a lawyer and working to find a new company that would help them create a more permanent gravestone for their son. There is no word on whether or not the Leatherman family has changed their minds or plans to accept Shoaf's gesture.

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