TAMPA, Fla. -- Vandalism at a historic Tampa cemetery is sparking anger in the community and a push for tighter security measures.

  • Damage inflicted using heavy object, like a sledgehammer
  • 18 tombs, statues damaged
  • Incident occurred sometime over past 2-3 days

The vandalism occurred at Centro Español de Tampa Memorial Park, located at 2502 E. 21st Avenue. Built in 1904, the historic cemetery has approximately 1,600 graves.

Investigators said the vandalism occurred sometime within the past two to three days. They believe the suspect or suspects used a heavy object, like a sledgehammer, to cause damage to 18 tombs and statues in the park.

The damage has left area residents with close ties to the cemetery devastated.

One of those people is Centro Español de Tampa president John Rañon. For years, Rañon made it his mission to preserve the cemetery.

He had good motivation -- both his parents and grandparents were buried there.

So the bleak rain Wednesday morning matched his mood when he discovered the graves and tombstones just pushed over, smashed, and broken into pieces.

"Someone with a heavy instrument just banged against crypt covers until they broke," Rañon said.

Cathy Varone has relatives buried here, as well. She came to the cemetery to make sure their graves had not been disturbed.

"I just can't believe someone would do this," Varone said.

Rañon said the immediate focus would be to figure out what could be repaired and to notify affected families.

"Then we're going to have to take it from there as far as timing and costs and sharing of costs, etc.," Rañon explained.

As for security, people we spoke to said they didn't not wish to limit people's access to come and visit their loved ones at the cemetery, but also said it was possible tighter security measures would have to be put in place.

Tampa Police detectives are working to develop leads in the case. Anyone with information on this incident should call Crime Stoppers.