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Fortuna police on Sunday arrested two individuals who allegedly knocked over and shattered monuments and headstones and scattered mutilated deer parts across the grounds of three cemeteries in the Rohnerville area.
James McMinn, 22, and Margaret Lopes, 22, both of Fortuna, allegedly caused more than $30,000 in damage to the Rohnerville Catholic Cemetery and the Mason and the International Order of Oddfellows cemeteries, said Sgt. Aaron Starcher of the Fortuna Police Department.
Police also arrested McMinn on suspicion of brandishing a weapon and assault and battery. According to Starcher, McMinn allegedly pulled a knife on a witness who had confronted the suspects at the cemetery. This led to a confrontation during which McMinn allegedly struck the witness and knocked him to the ground, Starcher said.
”Our officers also report that (the witness) was choked when he was on the ground,” Starcher said, adding that McMinn did not stab the witness.
Fortuna police officers found McMinn and Lopes at the Rohnerville Catholic Cemetery when they responded at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Officers also found mutilated deer parts and spoke with a witness who had confronted McMinn during the vandalism. McMinn had brandished a knife and threatened the witness, according to police officers.
Deer remains were also found at the Oddfellows and Mason cemeteries, police say.
Elizabeth Jones, administrative assistant for the Fortuna Cemetery District,


estimated that the suspects had disturbed about 30 gravesites including the grave of a Catholic priest. Some of the marble pillars are between 100 and 150 years old, she said. Although preliminary estimates show that the suspects caused about $30,000 in damage, Jones said it will take time before the district's board members have a more accurate estimate. Jones said the police department notified her about the vandalism at 5:51 p.m. She was at the Rohnerville Catholic Cemetery and the others on Monday with her camera to document the damage. Cemetery district staff hasn't yet begun the process of finding relatives of the deceased to notify them of the vandalism, Jones said.
”That's going to be a time-consuming process, determining if there's a contact person for the site,” she said. “Some of the sites were historical sites, so it's not going to be easy to track down the contact person for it.”
The cemetery district does carry liability insurance that includes a vandalism clause, Jones said. Once officials have gathered all the proper documentation, the district will notify its insurance company, she said, adding district officials are allowing the police department to finish its investigation.
Jones said there haven't been any other acts of vandalism since she began working for the cemetery district about three years ago. But thefts have occurred with people breaking into buildings to steal equipment. Sunday's vandalism seems more like an act of malicious mischief, she said.
”We're hopeful that there will be a conviction and that these people will be held responsible and accountable,” Jones said. “I know that all of our board members and all of the employees were shocked and distraught. Our hearts break for those families that are going to have to endure this type of pain to see that their family history has been tainted or damaged in this way.”
McMinn and Lopes were booked into the Humboldt County jail on charges of felony vandalism to a cemetery and vandalism to items of historical value, according to the Fortuna Police Department. McMinn has also been charged with brandishing a knife, felony threats and assault and battery. According to the police department, the assault victim was treated and released from Redwood Memorial Hospital.
Both suspects are still in custody, said Lt. Steve Knight of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office. The suspects' bail is set at $50,000 each, he said.
The investigation into the vandalism continues. Anyone with information is asked to call the Fortuna Police Department at 725-7550.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at 441-0504 or at

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