Grading of Wake Forest cemetery comes under fire

(Kelly Kennedy/CBS North Carolina)

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WNCN) – A video posted on social media suggesting construction crews bulldozed cemetery plots for a development on Burlington Mills Road in Wake Forest caused quite a commotion.

“Nothing was bulldozed,” said Geoff Shiley, Division president of Mungo Homes of North Carolina. “We pride ourselves on doing the right thing. This area was meant to be preserved.”

Shiley says 62 plots of what they believe could be human remains were moved from a North Carolina Department of Transportation right-of-way and placed in small coffins and then relocated to a fenced in cemetery area.

“There were no human identifiable things, but it’s basically black dirt in there where they could tell something had decayed,” Shiley said. “They did put it in a box, but there was no tooth, no clothing, no watches, no jewelry, nothing.”

According to historical research by the Wake Forest Planning Department, who exactly is buried in this graveyard is still a mystery.

CBS North Carolina has learned it is linked to a pre-Civil War family who owned slaves, but there is no record of anyone actually being buried there.

Developers had approval from the state and town to move the gravesites from the NCDOT right-of-way, but the Town says they did not have permission to do work in the actual cemetery site.

“They didn’t want us to come in and touch anything and that’s where we got sideways,” said Shiley. “We came in and we cleaned up some of the underbrush. We did light grading to put mulch and sod down to landscape.”

According to Michelle Michael, a senior planner, a town construction inspector first noticed the worked last week and expressed concern. That afternoon a meeting between the town and Mungo Homes – the developer – was held.

The town said an official stop work order was issued,

Two days later, state archeologists came out. The town said they determined that two to four inches of soil was moved but it didn’t cause any disturbance to the graves.

Mungo Homes faces a $24,000 fine from the town.

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CBS North Carolina asked Michael what she thinks went wrong, and she said, “I don’t know and all of that is under investigation.”

The person who took the video that drew attention to the controversy is upset at what happened.

“How did it happen?” asked Michelle Bowers of Youngsville. “Why was he allowed in there with the equipment to do that.”

Shiley says he wants to set the record straight.

“We’re a family owned company,” he said. “Our biggest thing is priding ourselves that we do the right thing and we plan to do the same thing here. Nothing malicious, nothing was done intentionally wrong here.”

Archaeologists will visit the site to perform ground penetrating radar to find out where exactly the rest of the remains are located so they are not disturbed.

There’s no word right now on when construction will resume.

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