Limestone County family fights Athens City Hall over decorations on daughter’s grave

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.
Data pix.

ATHENS, Ala. - A Limestone County family, still grieving over the death of their daughter, is now in a battle with city hall over her grave.

Pat Montgomery says they chose Roselawn Cemetery in Athens because they allowed grave site decorations. But they say the city is changing the rules.

WHNT News 19 is taking action for the Montgomery's and other families who say the city is trying to legislate their grief.

Michele Montgomery was killed by a drunk driver on her way home from a family reunion last year. She had just turned 27.

“It's a big piece of your heart that's gone,” said her father, Pat Montgomery, as he stood at the foot of her grave Wednesday afternoon.

He and his wife chose to bury her at Roselawn Cemetery in Athens, because so many of the graves were well decorated.

“And we just thought that was really awesome the way they let them decorate like that. We mentioned about the decorating and the clerk said on yeah, people do a great job of decorating out there.  We came out and walked the grounds with the groundskeeper to pick out the lots we wanted and he said the same thing, oh yeah everybody decorates. So I did,” he explained.

But a few weeks later, the city decided it was too much. The city council even amended its cemetery ordinance to allow groundskeepers to remove the decorations. Not just at his daughter's grave, but all of them.

“What do you say to people who think what you've done here could be a little extreme,” WHNT News 19’s Al Whitaker asked?

“I don't know. To some people I would agree but then again, it's 2016 and people grieve differently. To me, it's a lot different to bury a parent or a brother, which I’ve done both, than it is to bury your child. And this is just some kind of thing we have up here to keep her memory alive,” Montgomery said.

Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks says he fully understands this is part of their grieving process.

“We have other people calling who have loved ones come from out-of-state to visit their relatives graves or children's graves who say, you know, this is very unattractive to us,” Marks said.

So, the Montgomery's have until this weekend to clear the grave or the groundskeepers will do it for them.

Mayor Marks tells us the cemetery ordinance never allowed for permanent improvements to a grave site without authorization.

He says it simply wasn't enforced. As a result, you'll find flagpoles, benches, lights and many other types of decorations at many of the graves. Marks says the changes to the ordinance simply allows the city to enforce the law.