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‘Persons of interest’ found in vandalism of historic cemetery
A monument for the Rev. William Jackson Pirkle (1828-92) and his wife, Sarah Ann Canning (1831-85) was among those vandalized at the Mt. Moriah Church cemetery. - photo by FCN file photo

NORTH FORSYTH — For many people, social media is a way to keep up with friends, but local law enforcement officials are using it to help crack cases.

On Friday, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office posted of photograph of two people on its Facebook page who may have been involved with a recent vandalism at an historic cemetery in north Forsyth.

Deputies had used physical evidence found at the scene to trace the two to an area business. From there, they acquired photos from surveillance camera footage.

“We put up the post with the surveillance photos … and we got a lot of response from the community,” said Robin Regan, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “Very quickly, the parents of the individuals pictured were notified by different people that they knew. The parents then contacted me.”

No arrests have been made in the incident, which occurred sometime between Aug. 15-17 at Mt. Moriah Church cemetery, near where Hwys. 9 and 369 meet. Several headstones were damaged, knocked over or broken.

“We are still just considering them persons of interest,” Regan said of the two people. “They’re not suspects at this point. The post with their pictures was removed because it had served its purpose.”

Mt. Moriah, where the grave markers date from 1880 to 1930, was restored a few years ago by a local Boy Scout, who used the restoration of the site as his Eagle Scout project.

The damage there occurred less than a month after vandals caused extensive damage to a smaller, pioneer family cemetery near Ronald Reagan Boulevard and Union Hill Road in south Forsyth.

Authorities have said the cases are similar but may not be related. Both cemeteries have veterans who fought in the Civil War buried there.

If caught, those responsible for either of the crimes will face stiff penalties. Among the charges those responsible could face are vandalism, trespassing and criminal damage, authorities have said.

Regan, who oversees the agency’s Facebook page, said social media has been a powerful tool for helping law enforcement get messages out to people. He added that some suspects have even turned themselves in as a result.

“When we have warrants out on individuals, we’ve had several people turn themselves in very quickly and they have told us it is specifically because so many people saw them, and they received so many calls from people that they knew that they decided to turn themselves in,” Regan said.

“Even on things we aren’t posting about, we’re getting a lot of information and feedback from the community,” Regan said. “It just opens up a two-way dialogue that has been extremely useful.”