New Restlawn owner promises to repair cemetery's reputation

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The owner of Restlawn Memorial Park spoke openly Tuesday about his efforts to repair the cemetery's reputation after it was revealed that as many as 2,000 bodies were improperly buried there.

"We're trying to make the cemetery correct for the community," Mark Riposta said.

He said he knew what he was in for when he purchased the cemetery from Southside Christian Charities last October. Of the 27,000 people buried there, up to 2,000 will have to be disinterred and relocated to another location on cemetery grounds.

"The biggest issue is that there was no previous experience without the owners," Riposta said. "They should have not been able to operate at all. That in and of itself caused all the problems."

Riposta said his company will end up spending more than $2 million to exhume and rebury the dead. But in the end, he said he hopes the investment in the community will ultimately pay off.

"When this is done, when this settled and people are comfortable and they know their loved one is there, that good will is going to be tremendous. That's good for the community," Riposta said.

"It's disturbing. It's wrong. They should be prosecuted," Sara Flynn said. "People put their trust in the cemetery. This is truly unique and they should not abuse that trust."

The damage is already done for Flynn and the pain of the mistake is irreparable.

"I'm wondering if we'll ever know where Eva is buried. It's very sad," she said of her loved one.

The state is now monitoring what is happening at the cemetery.

"Our focus is to ensure that during this process of exhuming and moving the bodies, it's done with the acknowledgment and permission of the families," said Ashley Carr, of the Department of Financial Services. "From what we've seen, we are please with the positive changes made at Restlawn cemetery."

"I hope aggressively we can have this done and get people buried in the right place in two years," Riposta said. "It might take three, but if you don't set a bar, you're going to fall short."

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