Monument company agrees to return grave marker of boy who died of cancer

A gravestone maker in North Carolina has agreed to replace the marker of a 5-year-old boy who died of cancer after it removed the stone in a payment dispute.

"In hindsight, it was a big mistake to have the cemetery remove it, we see it now," the Rev. J.C. Shoaf, who runs Southeastern Monument company, told Charotte's WBTV-TV in a statement Tuesday.

"But we do offer the family our condolence, and forgiveness. ... We hope they forgive us."

Shoaf said the company would reinstall the gravestone of Jake Leatherman at Woodlawn Cemetery in Hickory, N.C., and mark the family’s bill as “paid in full.”

The apology came a day after WBTV reported the monument company’s decision to remove the gravestone following a dispute over costs the family owed from requesting modifications to the marker.

Shoaf said he placed the stone despite not being paid out of compassion for the family’s loss.

But after visiting their son’s gravesite Oct. 9, parents Crystal and Wayne Leatherman saw the marker was missing.

“He repossessed it, like it was a car,” Crystal Leatherman told WBTV.

"If you buy something, you've got to pay for it. No matter what it is,” said Shoaf, 73, who has been a minister for 50 years. Still, he acknowledged that he regretted how the situation was handled.

“I hated to do it. I’m not heartless and I have had a child die, so I know how it feels. But what was I to do?” said Shoaf, adding that he needed to pay his employees. “I thought having (the marker) would give me some leverage. In hindsight, I should have just written it up as a bad debt.”

The family argued that they were never made aware of the extra costs, and would have paid what they owed.

"This is not something you argue over,” Crystal Leatherman said.