TAMPA (FOX 13) - Toppled tombstones and destroyed memorials; Tampa police say vandals desecrated 18-graves in Centro Espanol de Tampa Cemetery.
"This was just knocked over, and it caused the crypt cover to crack," said John Ranon with Centro Espanol de Tampa.
Ranon is the president of the organization that runs the historic cemetery. However, the severe destruction is personal.
His mother, father, and grandparents are all buried there.
Those graves weren't damaged, but 18 others were.
"What took me aback was the scope of it,” he said. “It’s not that just someone came here and knocked a figure off the top of a tombstone, they actually destroyed the crypt."
Headstones are knocked over, stone slabs are cracked and caving-in, and the tombs are desecrated. The damaged graves are scatted all over the nearly two-acre property North of Ybor City.
"They had either a sledgehammer or something very heavy that they worked at it for a while,” Steve Hegarty, with the Tampa Police Department, said. “So we're hoping that somebody heard something or saw something because somebody was very determined to do some damage."
A neighbor tells FOX 13 News he was walking his dog through the grounds made the heartbreaking discovery.
Ranon says the vandalism happened sometime between Friday afternoon and Wednesday morning. He estimates it could cost up to $20,000 to repair or replace the ruined graves.
"It's sad and it's disheartening because this is not only a sacred place to the families who are resting here and their relatives, but it's a historic place, this cemetery has been here since 1905," said Ranon.
He tells FOX 13 News the organization will be reaching out to every family that's impacted by this crime and he hopes police are able to track down whoever is responsible.
"I'd like to look them in the eye and ask them why they did this because I don't get it,” Ranon said.
There has been vandalism at the cemetery in the past, but never to this extent. Some of the destroyed graves are close to 100-years-old.
Right now there's just a low fence around the grounds and the cemetery is always open, but Ranon says he's definitely going to make upgrading the security a priority.
If you know anything about the crime, call Tampa police.