NJ family demanding answers after loved one's casket found unearthed, open

HILLSIDE, New Jersey (WABC) -- A heartbroken family from New Jersey who recently said goodbye to a loved one is now grappling with even more emotional pain.

Paula Smith died from COVID-19 at just 60 years old, and her family turned her final farewell into a celebration of life.

On April 21, they watched her casket lowered into the ground at Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside. But over the weekend, they found it unearthed -- and open.

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The grief of losing a loved one is traumatic enough, but after seeing what they saw, the pain has turned to anger.

Now, they are demanding answers.

"We noticed that that was our grandmother's casket because we just buried her," granddaughter Zinahyi Smith said. "Same casket, same gravestones around, and it was open."

They're also not the only ones, as other families found out their buried relatives' graves have been disturbed.

The Smith family was told they needed to hire a lawyer to get answers.

"Somebody in our family's casket is wide open, dug up," Zinahyi Smith said. "We watched her go down. Why is her casket open? That's the real question. Why is her casket open, and where is my grandmother?"

The area is now covered with mounds of dirt, and it seems that many more coffins are nearby. The land was disturbed, and there are rat holes along with toppled tombstones.

Other families are asking what has happened to their loved ones.

"Everybody else's family was coming out, saying they're known for this," Zinahyi Smith said. "They're known for this, and this is very sad. Because we should be able to trust them with our family members."

Assemblyman Jamel Holley, who represents the district, wants to get to the bottom of this painful situation.

"This, to me, is criminal," he said. "I think that this is all about greed and money, and at the end of the day, people come here for a safe place of peace of their loved ones."

Holley would like to see the families get reimbursed and for the state to launch an investigation into Hillside Cemetery.

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