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Over 200 caskets to be dug up and moved in West Seneca

Posted at 11:17 PM, Apr 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-30 16:58:07-04

WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WKBW) — St. Matthew’s Cemetery in West Seneca is where Robin Hatton's son, Brandon, is buried.

“I came every day and talked to my son,” said Hatton. Brandon died at the age of 31, over a year ago.

A few weeks ago, she got the surprise of a lifetime. Her son's grave wasn't there.

“The bank has gone downhill where my son was. It's gone completely,” said Hatton.

The portion of the cemetery Garden of Good Shepard is right next to Cayuga Creek. Hatton son's casket didn't wash away, but it was moved.

“Never, I repeat never, were any graves compromised,” said Joseph Dispenza. He is the president of the Forest Lawn group of cemeteries, which includes St. Matthew’s.

Dispenza says a portion of the bank did collapse in early April. So, they took action. Crews placed huge steel sheets to keep the bank from moving. It didn't work. The ground kept moving towards the creek. Now, all 220 buried caskets from the Garden of Good Shepard will be moved to another portion of the cemetery.

“The board and I feel strongly that it's better to move everybody and abandon this section, even though we believe the balance of the section is safe. I don't want this to be an issue in the future for anyone,” said Dispenza.

Hatton says she wasn't told about the changes before they happened.

Dispenza said they had to act so fast they didn't have time to call families before the graves we dug up.

Because this is an active, emergency project and many factors at the site determine which row of burials will be disinterred and in what order, we will notify the families of those who are disinterred and reinterred as soon as possible after the work is completed. That notification process has begun. If the immediate family member or next of kin of people interred in St. Matthew’s Garden of Good Shepherd has any questions, they can contact the cemetery at a phone number established exclusively for these families at (716) 818-4713.
St. Matthew's Cemetery

Updated statement from April 30:

Everyone at St. Matthew’s Cemetery, as well as our consulting engineer, contractor and staff shares the shock, sadness and grief caused by the profound and unexpected power of nature and felt most deeply by the families with loved ones interred in the Garden of Good Shepherd. Our primary focus is the protection of those who’ve been entrusted to our care through burial. Because their graves were put at risk by the unprecedented natural shear failure of the land in that section, we have been compelled to move them out of harm’s way and into a safe, secure section in the cemetery. Given the instability of the land in the Garden of Good Shepherd, we’ve had to move very quickly yet methodically, in the midst of unsafe and continuously evolving conditions, making it impossible to accommodate the understandable desire of so many families to be present during the process of disinterment and reinterment of their loved ones. If the immediate family members or next of kin of people interred in St. Matthew’s Garden of Good Shepherd have any questions, they can contact the cemetery at a phone number established exclusively for these families at (716) 818-4713.