Infant's photo pried from gravestone in Hempfield
Kelcie Kuhns visits her 6-day-old daughter's grave site in Hempfield Township regularly.
There, Skylar's tiny face, captured during her brief life, looks out from a photograph etched on porcelain and affixed to the gravestone.
That is, until Sunday.
“It's devastating, because who takes something like that, from a baby of all things,” said Kuhns, a 24-year-old Greensburg Salem High School graduate.
Kuhns wants to know how her daughter's cameo-style picture went missing from the grave site in Westmoreland County Memorial Park. Kuhns believes it was pried off the stone.
Memorial park officials will replace the photograph and install it on the headstone at no cost to Kuhns, said Doug Farruggia, sales director for CMS East, Inc. a family-owned cemetery company that operates the Hempfield site.
“There is no evidence that any equipment approached and/or damaged the memorial or the keepsake,” Farruggia said, adding that employees didn't remove the photo. “Kelcie's loved one's grave will always be marked. We feel saddened that a situation like this presents itself.”
As Kuhns' due date approached in September 2014, she noticed that her daughter had stopped moving. Doctors performed an emergency C-section and Kuhns learned that Skylar had brain damage as a result of low blood and oxygen levels. Then came the tough decision.
“She wouldn't know anybody. She would have no quality of life,” Kuhns said. “That's not fair, so we decided to just let her go.”
Kuhns memorialized the infant on her headstone, which cost $3,000. She said the cameo cost an additional $600. The cemetery cares for and guarantees both.
On Easter Sunday morning, a relative who visited the baby's grave alerted Kuhns to the missing photograph and sent her a picture of the gravestone.
“I freaked out,” Kuhns recalled. “‘What do you mean it's gone?' ”
She saw it for herself later that day.
“I don't know why people can be so heartless,” Kuhns said Thursday. “They're not just random people you throw in there. They're loved ones.”
On Monday she posted a plea for help on the Across Westmoreland Facebook page.
Kuhns believes the photo could have been stolen, but Farruggia said he couldn't confirm or deny that.
Cemetery employees were understanding and responded professionally to a sensitive situation, Farruggia said.
“We understand the value and respect the importance of someone's life,” he said.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.