For reasons baffling to police and cemetery officials, vandals over the weekend knocked over 65 very old tombstones, destroying at least 20, in one of the older portions of Santa Ana Cemetery.
Some of the tombstones were tall, elaborate marble markers dating back to the 1860s, when Santa Ana was a pioneer village. A person or persons toppled the old grave markers sometime Saturday night or early Sunday morning, police said. An official who opened the cemetery gate about 6:30 a.m. Sunday discovered the vandalism.
"It had to be more than one person, maybe a gang," said Salvador S. Martinez, superintendent of the cemetery at 1919 E. Santa Clara Ave. "Maybe they were on drugs. I don't know why people would do something like this."
Martinez added that it was worst single episode of vandalism he has seen during his 14 years as cemetery superintendent.
Santa Ana police said the tombstone toppling was "malicious mis chief." There was no evidence of any anti-religious activity involved in the vandalism, said police Lt. Jack Nelson.
"Sometime during the night, someone entered the cemetery and tipped over the tombstones," Nelson said. "There is no evidence of this being the work of any cult or devil worshipers or anything like that."
No estimate of damages was immediately possible, according to both police and Martinez.
"Many of these are tombstones of people who died 100 years ago," Martinez said. "There are no relatives alive who can come forward. We are trying to repair the stones that were broken when they fell. It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle."
Martinez said many of the tombstones are very heavy. He said he doubts if one person could topple such heavy marble pieces. "I tried to move one that had been tipped over, and I couldn't budge it," Martinez said.
He said some of the tombstones toppled onto street curbs and were broken. Others, because of their age, were chipped when toppled.
"The small, two-inch thick ones (tombstones) suffered most of the damage," Martinez said. He said that at least 20 of the toppled markers broke apart because of the vandalism.
The historic Santa Ana Cemetery is owned by the county.
Martinez acknowledged that vandals periodically hit the old cemetery. The last such episode, which also involved tipping over tombstones, was about a year ago. But he said never before had so many grave markers been hit at one time, and for no apparent reason.
"The police who were at the cemetery today were very mad," Martinez said. "They were saying, 'We want to catch who did this sort of thing.' "