Oct 21, 2013 3:25 PM by NBC News
(WLWT) A Cincinnati, Ohio cemetery and a family are at odds over a pair of SpongeBob SquarePants headstones.
It is a bizarre controversy involving the final resting place of slain soldier Sgt. Kimberly Walker of Cincinnati. The 28-year-old was found dead in a Colorado Springs, Colorado hotel room on Valentine's Day.
Walker's boyfriend, also a soldier, was charged with first-degree murder in connection with her death.
The murder left Walker's family numb and wondering how something like this could happen. Eight months later, her family said they've encountered a controversy over a monument of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants at Walker's gravesite in the historic Spring Grove Cemetery. They said it has caused them more pain and more disbelief.
Deborah Walker, Kimberly's mother, said her daughter loved SpongeBob. Deborah said Kimberly had all types of SpongeBob items, including her shower curtains.
"SpongeBob went in her casket before we laid her in the ground," Deborah said.
In March, the family ordered two 7,000-pound SpongeBob SquarePants monuments, costing more than $13,000 each. The family received the approval to erect the SpongeBob monuments, signed the contracts, started the design and paid 10 percent of the price upfront.
In addition, the family purchased six plots together in the cemetery.
"They stand 6 feet tall and he's 4 feet wide and he's on a platform of eight inches, so it makes him 6 feet 8 inches tall," Deborah said.
On Oct. 10, the monuments arrived and were installed at the cemetery. Each SpongeBob wears a military uniform, one in an Army uniform for Kimberly and the other in a Navy uniform for twin sister Kara, who is currently an IT Specialist in the U.S. Navy.
The monuments also have an American flag on one sleeve and the No. 24 for Kimberly's favorite racecar driver Jeff Gordon on the other.
"I thought it was the greatest thing in the cemetery. I even told the people there that I think this is the best monument I've ever seen. It's the best headstone in the cemetery and they all agreed. It came out really nice," Kara said.
One day later, cemetery officials informed the Walker family that the monuments were inappropriate and had to be removed.
Spring Grove President and CEO Gary Freytag talked with WLWT News 5's Courtis Fuller by phone Sunday. He also provided a written statement. Freytag said he was hopeful that the cemetery could come to a positive resolution with the Walker family.
"Spring Grove is deeply sorry for the issues involving the monument the Walker family recently purchased. Although the family chose a design with the guidance of a Spring Grove employee, unfortunately the monument did not fit within Spring Grove Cemetery guidelines. As an historic cemetery, we must constantly balance the needs of families who have just suffered a loss with the thousands of families who have entrusted us in the past. We are working with the Walker family and are committed to design a solution, at our expense, that will properly memorialize Kimberly, within the context of Spring Grove's historic landscape and guidelines," Freytag's statement said.
Fuller asked Deborah Walker if there was a middle ground of compromise.
"I feel like, and we all feel like, SpongeBob should stay there. We bought the plots, all six of them. We put the monuments there, we did what we had to do and they said they could provide that service to us," Deborah said.
The cemetery and Walker family are scheduled to meet later this week in hopes of reaching a resolution.
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