Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, but having your 5-year-old son’s tombstone repossessed must add to the excruciating pain you already feel. Jake Leatherman made national headlines after he lost his battle to leukemia and NASCAR racers attended his funeral. His parents were in for another shock when they visited Jake’s grave on Oct. 9 and found the tombstone had been removed for lack of payment.
“He repossessed it, like it was a car,” Crystal Leatherman said Monday while holding back tears. “This is my lowest point.” They took a picture to show others that all that remained of their child’s tombstone was a hole surrounded by mud.
Jake’s father, Wayne, says he can no longer visit his son’s grave, which is located in North Carolina. “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.”
According to Fox News, the man responsible for repossessing the tombstone, Rev. J.C. Shoaf, said the family never made the necessary payments in order to own the tombstone. “If you buy something, you’ve got to pay for it. No matter what it is,” Shoaf said.
The Charlotte Observer reported that Shoaf allowed the parents to take the tombstone before paying for it because they had endured such a tragic ordeal with their young son’s passing. “Because they had been through so much emotionally, grieving so hard, I thought we’d just go ahead and do it,” he explained.
Wayne and Crystal both were unaware that there was an additional cost associated with the tombstone. “If I would have owed him the money I would have paid him,” Crystal told WBTV. “This is not something you argue over.”
In hindsight, Shoaf says he should have handled the situation differently. “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?” the 73-year-old said. “I thought having (the marker) would give me some leverage. In hindsight, I should have just written it up as a bad debt.”
The family is currently seeking legal counsel. It is unclear if they ever received any bills from Mr. Shoaf for the stone.