Grieving family, cemetery at odds over headstone for Ohio boy who died of cancer

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

CLARK COUNTY — A family whose 9-year-old son died of cancer two years ago is involved in a dispute with officials at a cemetery over the number of images on the boy’s headstone, said Brad Fitzsimmons, the boy’s father.

Barrett Fitzsimmons is buried at Myers Cemetery — in the Village of North Hampton — where many of his relatives are also buried. His headstone has nine pictures, as well as several other images such as dinosaurs, turtles, robots and other things that captured the mind of a child.

There is also a photo of Barrett in his Northwestern Elementary school football jersey and another of him smiling with arms outstretched. Fitzsimmons, a North Hampton resident, said his son had a brightness about him, always grinning and laughing.

“We’re not trying to idolize our child,” he said. “We just want to honor and remember him. We never sought special treatment, and we wanted to respect everyone.”

The Fitzsimmonses violated two or three of the private cemetery’s rules, said Doug Miller, president and chairman of the Myers Cemetery Association. Headstones are limited to three photos, and the Fitzsimmonses failed to contact the cemetery’s trustees prior to ordering their son’s headstone, as families are required to do, he said.

Aside from Barrett’s headstone exceeding the maximum number of photos, trustees felt the design would be out of place in the cemetery, which was founded in 1860 on a farm belonging to German Baptists — simple people — Miller wrote in an email to the Springfield News-Sun.

Currently, a makeshift headstone — a T-rex dinosaur carved out of a sheet of metal — is at Barrett’s grave site. It’s a nod to the boy’s fascination with the prehistoric animals. Signage for the Barrett Strong Foundation, which aims to raise awareness of pediatric cancer, is nearby.

Nathan Stuckey, the Springfield-based lawyer representing the Fitzsimmons family, plans to file a lawsuit at the beginning of the year in hopes of resolving the dispute over the headstone, he said.

The headstone is not just a marker for Barrett, but also serves as markers for future grave plots for Brad Fitzsimmons and his wife Lana. They incorporated a bench into the design of the headstone for when they visit their son’s grave at the North Hampton cemetery.

After submitting the headstone plans for approval, the cemetery board approved the size of the headstone and took payment from the monument company to create the headstone’s footer. The Fitzsimmons family paid for the footer in August 2020.

After the cemetery rejected the headstone because of the number of images, the familyrequested a vote on the design during the board’s yearly meeting, which they and others attended in June.

Fitzsimmons said the design was approved by a vote of 17 to 4, a decision his family met with tears of relief.

But the board later told the family that the vote was null due to non-members participating and casting a vote, and thus, the headstone was not approved.

Fitzsimmons said his family requested a copy of minutes from the meeting, which lists the board’s vote as 14 to 4, saying the measure on the headstone design “does not have a majority vote needed.”

The family’s legal counsel provided a letter from the German Baptist Brethren Church, dated May 1, 2021, that offered the church’s condolences to the family and stated that the cemetery, per court records, is owned by the “the trustees and their successors, along with the Association.”

“Therefore, we do not have the authority to make any decisions for the cemetery,” the letter stated.

The Fitzsimmons’ legal counsel also provided a copy of the letter the board sent to the monument company on Oct. 18 to the Springfield News-Sun.

The letter describes the rules and regulations the board has in place for the cemetery, including a timeframe in which footers can be made and placed on graves, beginning in April 1 and ending in Oct. 1.

The letter also states that there has not been any approval “for such [a] monument from your company by Myers Cemetery trustees.”

Fitzsimmons said his family has paid the money for a concrete footer that hasn’t been poured, and the family continues to pay thousands of dollars in storage fees for the headstone.

Greater yet, Fitzsimmons said, is the fact that people who knew Barrett want to be able to grieve his loss.

He recalled the day of Barrett’s funeral in 2019. He said North Hampton didn’t look like North Hampton that day: rather, like a large city with streets lined with people.

“Barrett meant so much to everyone in this community,” the boy’s father said.

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