FAIRFIELD — Overseers of a Quaker cemetery said Thursday that decorations adorning the burial site a 6-year-old girl aren’t in keeping with the church tradition, but they also said they didn’t know anything about recent vandalism of the grave.
Michael Trombley, pastor of the Friends Meeting House next to the cemetery off Middle Road, visited Avery Lane’s grave Thursday for the first time after saying he hadn’t known about the recent vandalism until contacted by a reporter.
Friends Cemetery Association Sexton Ron Fenlason, who is in charge of the upkeep of the graves, said Thursday that while the death of a child is devastating, he hopes Avery’s family eventually will tone down the grave site to match the rest of the cemetery more closely.
He said an apple tree planted behind the gravestone would have to go.
Fenlason, 79, said the association conducted a spring cleanup of the cemetery at the end of April, but that members did not move or damage any of the items on Avery’s grave. He said members of the cleanup team are all volunteers from the church and he would vouch for each of them.
Fenlason said he couldn’t recall any previous instances of vandalism of graves at the cemetery.
“Losing a little girl has got to be so sad, so we kind of overlook stuff for a while,” Fenlason said. “The stone is beautiful; nobody touched that or anything. We’ve never had a problem there.”
Avery Lane died from complications of the influenza strain that struck central Maine in December 2012. She became the first child influenza fatality in Maine since 2010.
Trombley, 64, said Quakers try to live a simple life and members of the Religious Society of Friends, as the congregation is known, intend to maintain that decorum even after death. Graves at the North Fairfield Friends Meeting House cemetery, some dating back 200 years, mostly reflect that simplicity.
That is, all but the grave of Avery, which is adorned with a colorful headstone, a playful sunflower pinwheel, wind chimes, little toys and an ornate iron bench. Avery’s grave site has been the target of vandalism three times over the past year, including twice last weekend. Keepsakes, a heavy iron bench and other items were smashed and thrown into nearby woods.
Fairfield police are investigating and a reward for information about the vandal is approaching $2,000.
Police Chief Thomas Gould said Thursday that the investigation into the vandalism was still ongoing and no one has come forward with information about the vandalism to claim the reward.
“We have a list of possible witnesses, but no name stands out more than anyone else. We do not have a suspect,” Gould said Thursday. “Until we hear otherwise, we still are looking at this as a crime.”
Trombley, 64, said after seeing Avery’s grave for the first time Thursday — all of the decorations and bench have since been replaced — he noted that the child’s grave clearly is “much brighter” than any of the others.
“Our ideas are things to be very plain and simple, so Quakers don’t go in for a lot of ornamentation or anything that’s showy,” Trombley said.
“The Meeting would not be opposed to this grave, but it’s not exactly a Quaker thing; we would go for something different,” he added. “An old-time Quaker family — you can see, all the graves are very simple, but evidently this girl died quite young, so I would see where there would be a lot more emotion and different feelings attached to that.”
Avery’s mother, Tabitha Souzer, 28, of Fairfield, said when she bought the plot at the Friends cemetery, she was not advised about any strict rules for adorning the site. She said the site was selected because it is next to the Lane family plot, but that she has no affiliation with the Friends church itself.
She said she received a call from Fenlason soon after the burial and after family and friends had lain several memorial objects at the grave site.
“I said, ‘She’s just a little girl and it just happened,’” Souzer said. “He said, ‘Well we’re kind of a laid-back cemetery,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ and I cleaned it up a little bit.
“He said we could keep the stuff up because he didn’t tell us that until after we bought the plot. I would think that if it was a big deal, he would have brought it back up to us, and nobody has said anything since.”
Souzer suggested that the family keep the bench where it is and mow the grass themselves to avoid giving the grounds crew extra work. She said the family maintained the grave all last summer. She said she would never disrespect the Friends Society knowingly and agreed that if they wanted it toned down, she would be willing to create a memorial to Avery at her home on Martin Stream Road.