‘Nobody’s loved one deserves to be treated like this’: Neighbors demand answers from Birmingham cemetery owner

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Sunrise Memorial Garden’s president responded to a complaint Monday about his cemetery and a recent business transaction.

Monica Rodgers’ son Kelvin was buried at the cemetery back in 2016. She told CBS 42 she’s been saving up for years to buy him a headstone, and when it finally arrived, it made her grieving even more difficult.

“My son does not deserve that to have a chipped headstone. I paid too much money for it,” Rodgers explained. “And I asked him to send it back he told me he would.”

In addition to the chip, Rodgers said the headstone was placed on what she believes is the wrong grave. She had an angel statue next to hers son’s nametag on the site she says he was buried, but the headstone she ordered was on a different plot, several feet away.

“When I came up here and I didn’t see it there and the way he did it, it really hurt me,” Rodgers told us.

Her friend Crystal Taylor reached out to CBS 42 looking for answers. Taylor and Rodgers explained the cemetery president, Cedric McMillian, stopped answering their phone calls and they were concerned he wouldn’t order her the new headstone.

“I have three kids and if this happened to one of mine I don’t know if I would be as strong as her,” said Taylor.

CBS 42 got in touch with McMillian, and after several days, he eventually agreed to an interview.

He claimed that he didn’t ignore Rodgers’ phone calls and said the order was handled professionally.

McMillian confirmed that a new headstone has already been ordered, but it takes several months because that type of black etch headstone is ordered from another country.

“It took six months to get the original headstone, and it’s going to take six months to get a replacement,” McMillian said.

As for the location of the grave, McMillian told CBS 42 it’s unlikely that a grave would be labeled with the wrong plot number in the cemetery records, but he took over ownership after Rodgers’ son was buried, so he would have to investigate it to be sure.

“I have to put that headstone exactly where that paperwork says that I should put the headstone because I didn’t own the cemetery at that time,” McMillian explained. “There’s no way to tell if I wasn’t here.”

He said he is willing to probe the ground to see which plot contains the casket.

Aside from Rodgers concerns about her son’s grave, she is asking McMillian fix up the entire cemetery.

CBS 42 observed overgrown grasses, weeds, large ant hills, pot holes, erosion and dirt piled on top of uneven graves.

“Nobody’s loved one deserves to be treated like this,” said Rodgers.

McMillian admits there’s work to be done, but the current revenue coming in from the cemetery doesn’t support the amount of maintenance the customers want. He explained their low prices reflect that.

He said for example, “It’s the difference between, you know, buying a steak burger at McDonald’s versus Fleming.”

McMillian tells us he’s hopeful that as the cemetery grows, he’ll have more revenue to invest in the grounds in the future.

Rodgers isn’t the only customer to complain about the service and grounds at Sunrise Memorial Gardens. An online search shows the business currently has a one-star review on both Google and Better Business Bureau.

BBB told CBS 42 it’s not an uncommon type of complaint for cemeteries. A spokesperson said in an email:

“When we receive a complaint regarding a cemetery, upkeep is a common reason for filing that complaint. The other common complaints regarding cemeteries involve the delayed or non delivery of monuments/headstones. Sometimes these transactions happen through the cemetery/funeral home, and sometimes they are directly through the monument company.

We encourage customers to contact businesses directly in an attempt to resolve issues prior to filing a complaint with our office. If the party has not received any resolution to their complaint, they can submit a complaint with us at bbb.org. Once that has occurred, we will work alongside the cemetery and consumer to try and bring some resolution.”

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