ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Relatives of a man found dead inside a burning SUV in St. Augustine last November are feeling the pain of their loss all over again after they said a memorial they set up was vandalized and items from it were stolen.
Charles Durden, 24, and a friend, 26-year-old Staffon Larry, were shot before the SUV they were in was set on fire, deputies said last year. No one has been charged with their murders.
Durden's mother, Annette Durden, and aunt, Frankie Durden, told News4Jax a memorial they set up with pictures of Charles and Staffon and a cross taped to a post has been ruined.
“If you didn't put anything there, then why would you move it? Why would you move it?” Frankie Durden said.
The memorial has been torn down and even partially boxed up. A board that people signed in honor of the pair was tossed into the bushes like trash.
Annette and Frankie Durden said the memorial means a lot to them and they spend a little time every day visiting it to make sure it's kept up.
They said they can’t understand why anyone would have been so bothered by it that they would destroy it.
“They had no right. They had no right to do that,” Annette Durden said. “They paid for nothing. Nothing over there meant anything to whoever done that. And it violated us, it violated us in the worst possible way.”
Annette Durden said that because the men's bodies were so badly burned, the families don’t have gravesites to visit to express their grief.
“They already took him from me, from us. I had nobody to lay to rest,” Annette Durden said. “That is sacred to us. That is sensitive to us. That's his burial ground to us.”
The site also holds painful reminders of what happened, including pieces of the charred SUV that still litter the ground and a street sign that was nearly melted away.
Durden’s family wonders if whoever vandalized the memorial even knew why it was created there in the first place.
The women said that no matter what, they believe justice will be served for the men's murders.
“He was given to me for a short length of time,” Annette Durden said of Charles. “I knew someday God was going to call him home first or me home first, but he's back up there with his father. But we're still down here grieving, and we are going to trust in our father in heaven to do what needs to be done to get justice for this family.”
St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver told News4Jax in an email that she feels for Durden's family and that the city definitely did not remove the memorial.
"The memorials in public right of ways are not prohibited, and we certainly, as a city, would not disturb it. ... It’s a tough situation. I really feel very badly for the family and the citizens in the neighborhood. It was very traumatic for the people who live in that neighborhood," Shaver wrote. “It’s awful. I certainly hope the crime is solved."
Shaver said a sergeant with the St. Augustine Police Department is talking to the community about the vandalism and that the city has installed additional lighting in the area.