LEESBURG, Va. — Four men have been charged with illegally dumping deer carcasses near a historic church and African-American cemetery in Leesburg after a yearlong investigation.
The local pastor who has been shepherding efforts to preserve the final resting places of black Americans, including slaves during the Civil War, said Leesburg and Loudoun County have not done enough to prevent the disrespect to the dead.
Pastor Michelle C. Thomas discovered several deer carcasses in the Sycolin Community Cemetery on Thursday, unaware that four hunters had recently been arrested in connection with the earlier dumping of carcasses.
“It was completely distressing,” Thomas said. “You come into a cemetery that’s a very solemn, sacred entrance — to be met with carcasses, it’s very disturbing.”
Thomas has been instrumental in the preservation of three African-American cemeteries in Loudoun County, including the Sycolin Road site, next door to the historic First Sycolin Baptist Church, across the street from the Leesburg Airport.
The other African-American cemeteries are at the intersection of Belmont Ridge Road and Route 7, and on Cool Spring Farm.
The four men, including two from Leesburg, are charged in connection with the dumping of deer parts on the church grounds in 2017.
Conservation police, with Virginia’s Department of Game & Inland Fisheries had been investigating since reports during the 2016 -2017 hunting season that bags of deer parts and exposed carcasses were left on the property.
While a large sign clearly labels one portion of the parcel of land containing the cemetery, Thomas stumbled upon the carcasses in an unmarked portion.
Only one stone gravesite is present at the Sycolin site. Much of the area containing burial sites is overgrown, with small red flags on metal sticks indicating where bodies are buried.
“There’s no sign,” Thomas said. “That’s one of the issues that makes this site vulnerable. Historic preservation must have some sort of signage. The steward of the cemetery, the onus to bring signage so people can learn more about the cemetery, that’s on the town.”
In a statement, conservation police said, “during the course of the investigation, DGIF officials did not learn of or obtain any information that would lead them to believe the dumping was associated with the church or cemetery.”
On Friday, Thomas and volunteers from Cornell University were raking leaves and removing trash from the Sycolin site, in a previously planned clean-up event.
Paul David Cadwell, of Leesburg, was charged with two counts of dumping trash, one count of obstructing justice, three counts of computer trespass and failure to check a deer. James Coniff Myer, of Leesburg is charged with dumping trash.
Also charged are Jared Daniel Miller, of East Berlin, Pennsylvania, with one count of borrowing or lending a hunting license, and Cody Alan Myers, of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, with one count of dumping trash.
All charges are misdemeanors, and could bring up to one year in jail and/or up to $2,500 in fines. A court date is set for May 9, in Loudoun County General District Court.