Jake Leatherman died of Leukemia when he was only five years old. His parents, Wayne and Crystal Leatherman, thought that after they laid their little boy to rest, they had been through the worst of their ordeal. Then, they went to visit his grave in Woodlawn Memorial Garden in Hickory, North Carolina and discovered that the monument company had callously repossessed their son’s headstone for a debt they didn’t even know about.
Jake was a huge NASCAR fan and although he lost his battle with leukemia before he had the chance to ever see a real race, the outpouring of love from drivers and crew members made national news when Joey Logano, Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Ellis and others attended his funeral last November.
This October, the Leatherman’s went to visit their son’s grave and saw a huge hole instead of his headstone.
“He repossessed it like it was a car,” Crystal Leatherman said on Monday. “This is my lowest point.”
Wayne Leatherman said visiting his son’s resting place was already very difficult, but now, it’s impossible.
“Disbelief? Anger? I don’t know how to put this into words,” he said. “I had a hard time going to the grave anyway, but now there’s a hole there. It’s just wrong.”
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Rev. J.C. Shoaf, who runs Southeastern Monument company, defended his decision to repossess the gravestone of a dead child, explaining that the parents owed him money and that’s what really matters here: money.
‘I hated to do it. I’m not heartless and I have had a child die, so I know how it feels. But what was I to do?’ said Shoaf, 73, who has been a minister for 50 years. ‘I thought having (the marker) would give me some leverage. In hindsight, I should have just written it up as a bad debt.’
Shoaf said that this is the first time he’s ever repossessed a headstone in his 56 years running the monument company and added that he kind of regrets it now because it made him look bad — and that could cost him more money.
“This could ruin my reputation. Hopefully, we can get this resolved, even if I take a loss on it,” Shoaf said.
The good pastor said that the family paid for the stone upfront, but then the mother came in and wanted changes which added $2,500 in additional costs. However, the grieving parents say they were never even told that the changes would cost more money and had no idea they owed Shoaf anything.
“He never once brought up extra charges,” said Wayne Leatherman. “We could have paid them if he brought them up. This is our little boy. We spent two years in the hospital with him and this marker is what my wife wanted for him.”
The couple has hired an attorney and even though Shoaf said he hopes they can reach an amicable agreement through mediation, Wayne Leatherman isn’t convinced that is an option after everything that has happened.
“The money is not an issue. It’s the principal of it,” Leatherman said. “If I owed him the money, I would have paid it. But he came and got it. It’s hard to look at things the same.”
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Considering that Shoaf has been a pastor for half of a century, you have to wonder what Bible he’s been reading. I’m not sure exactly what Jesus would do, but I’m pretty damn sure he wouldn’t repossess a dead child’s gravestone. Just saying.