A North Carolina couple says the company that made their 5-year-old son's grave marker has repossessed it.
Wayne and Crystal Leatherman's 5-year-old son, Jake, died from leukemia in 2016, and according to Crystal, when she went to visit her son's grave, it was gone, WGHP reports.
Jake had been an avid fan of NASCAR, and made headlines when a group of NASCAR drivers attended his funeral and acted as pallbearers after his passing.
The Rev. J.C. Shoaf, who runs Southeastern Monument Company, which created the grave marker, reportedly removed the stone because of a dispute over payment, according to The Charlotte Observer.
"He repossessed it, like it was a car," said Crystal. "This is my lowest point."
Shoaf says the couple had paid for the stone in full, but then requested changes that added additional charges totaling $2,500. The couple said they hadn't known about any additional charges, and if they had they would have paid them.
"I told [Wayne] I would take it up if they didn't pay," said Shoaf. "I was told: 'Go ahead.' They probably owe less than $1,000 on it."
"If I would have owed him the money, I would have paid him," said Crystal. "This is not something you argue over."
"I hated to do it," said Shoaf. "I'm not heartless and I have had a child die, so I know how it feels. But what was I to do?"
Shoaf, who said he's been constructing monuments for 56 years and has never repossessed a grave stone before this, added that the main factor for him was being able to pay his workers.
"I thought having [the marker] would give me some leverage. In hindsight, I should have just written it up as a bad debt," the reverend said.
"They've been through an awful lot, I know that," added Shoaf. "And right now, they're thinking emotionally, and having that grave out there unmarked -- that's emotional trauma. I lost a child, I know what that is."
"This could ruin my reputation," he said. "Hopefully, we can get this resolved, even if I take a loss on it."
The Leathermans said they have hired a lawyer and are considering using another monument company to construct a permanent monument to their son at his grave site.
Many commenters online were furious that Shoaf had removed the child's grave marker.
"How can anyone have the guts to repossess a grave stone?" asked one user. "A CHILD’S gravestone?"
"What did it solve?" asked another. "File a judgement, take it to court. But to rip the headstone away is terrible business."
Others supported business owner.
"That's the problem with so many people," said one commenter. "Somehow, they developed the notion that things in life are free. Funeral homes are not a charity, it's a business. Emphasize the word business. Death is unavoidable, shocking, sad, and as painful as it may be, it is no one else's responsibility to pay for your plot, funeral, or headstone."
Crystal said she and her husband are not upset about the money, but about the precedent that removing their son's headstone could set for others in similar situations, according to WBTV.
"Most people are just going to do it," said Crystal. "If they can do it, they're going to do it. But it doesn't make it right."
Shoaf said he still hoped he and the Leathermans could come to an understanding.
"I would hope we can find a way to meet in the middle," he said.