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Family members of veterans saddened by headstone destruction at Montana cemetery

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Posted at 9:22 PM, Jul 08, 2024

BILLINGS — It was a heartbreaking sight to see for one Billings family as they visited Mountview Cemetery to see the destruction left behind from a driver Saturday: 14 veterans' headstones were destroyed and several others damaged.

It's deja vu for Shawna Strandell and her mother Patricia Warden as this isn't the first time something like this has happened at the cemetery.

“It looks like it was hit and ended up hitting this headstone, knocking it over," said Strandell Sunday as she pointed out how far her father's headstone had traveled from where he was laid to rest.

She never expected to see pieces of the tombstone of her veteran father, Joseph Steiner, scattered across the cemetery, again.

“His headstone was hit a few years ago in another accident, so I thought that it was something similar,” Strandell said.

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What's left of Joseph Steiner's tombstone, a World War II Navy diver.

With several family members buried in the cemetery, Strandell and Warden are metaphorically picking up the pieces.

“Oh, it was devastating. It was just devastating. This place means everything to me,” said Warden.

“It’s just kind of a peaceful place that I can be by myself or bring my son and just feel like I’m close to my dad,” Strandell said.

That peace was broken after Saturday after Steiner's headstone, a World War II Navy diver, was just one of 14 destroyed by a vehicle around 10 a.m. A police report has been filed.

“I don't know the details of what is in it or how the vehicle came to be in the cemetery. But I'm sure they'll get it all figured out,” said the cemetery supervisor, Brandon Schmidt.

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Shawna Strandell and her mother Pat Warden walk past the destroyed tombstones at Mountview Cemetery.

Though mystery still shrouds the situation, families like Strandell's and Warden's are looking to the past, hoping for a solution in the future.

“It’s heartbreaking that this has happened three times. I just want something done about it, so it won’t happen again,” Warden said.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s something we can look at ways to prevent it. There’s no easy solutions to that, but it’s definitely something we can look at,” added Schmidt.

Schmidt is putting a call out for volunteers, hoping they can help replace the headstones as a community during the cemetery's Saluting Branches event in September.

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Destructed veteran tombstones at Mountview Cemetery.

“I would love to see something more permanent that can protect the final resting place of these soldiers, these heroes, so it doesn’t happen again,” Strandell said.

“This is supposed to be their final resting place and it’s not peaceful,” said Warden.

MTN reached out to the Billings Police Department regarding this incident and has yet to hear back.