5-year-old boy's gravestone repossessed after payment dispute

HICKORY, North Carolina -- Grieving parents in North Carolina are demanding answers after they say their son's grave marker was repossessed by the company that made it.

It's been nearly a year since Wayne and Crystal Leatherman buried their 5-year-old son, Jake, after he lost a long battle with leukemia.

Crystal says she was stunned when she recently went to visit her son's grave, and the grave marker was gone.

"He repossessed it, like it was a car," she said.

The owner of the monument company had the stone removed after he said the family didn't pay money owed.

"If you buy something, you've got to pay for it," said J.C. Shoaf, of Southeastern Monuments. "No matter what it is."

Shoaf claims the couple did pay in full for a stone, but they then made a number of changes, resulting in a larger bill.

"It was my first time in 56 years I've had this problem," he said.

When asked why he placed the stone without a full payment, he says he did it out of good will.

"Because the family had been through so much emotionally, grieving so hard, I thought we'd just go ahead and do it," he said.

At the same time, the Leathermans say they were never told about any increase in cost.

"If I would have owed him the money, I would have paid him," Wayne said. "This is not something you argue over."

Shoaf said it's all about paying his workers, but he says he does feel for the family.

"They've been through an awful lot, I know that," he said. "And right now, they're thinking emotionally and having that grave out there unmarked, that's emotional trauma. I know. I lost a child. I know what that is."

For the Leathermans, it's no longer about the money. Instead, it's the precedent this situation may set for others.

"Most people are just going to do it," Wayne said. "If they can do it, they're going to do it. But it doesn't make it right."

The Leathermans say they are looking for another company to build a permanent grave marker for their son.
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