Pastor in N.C. Repossesses 5-Year-Old Boy's Gravestone after Payment Dispute

A pastor for fifty years, JC Shoaf also owns Southeastern Monument Company. Both the church he pastors and the company he owns have received unwanted publicity after Shoaf repossessed the gravestone of a five-year-old Hickory, N.C., boy.

It’s been a year since Jake Leatherman died from leukemia. During a recent visit to the gravesite, Crystal Leatherman, the mother, discovered that the gravestone had been repossessed. She told WBTV that “this is my lowest point.”

The family hired a lawyer, and the press got wind of the repossessed gravestone. At first, Shoaf defended his actions, telling WBTV that the family hadn’t finished paying for the gravestone, but that he let them go ahead and put it up out of the kindness of his heart. He said that the original price was paid, but that the family asked for changes to be made to the gravestone which caused the price to rise. “If you buy something, you’ve got to pay for it, no matter what it is,” JC Shoaf said. “It was my first time in 54 years [that] I’ve had this problem.”

The family denies knowing anything about the additional costs and insists that they would’ve happily paid Shoaf if he had sent them a bill. Crystal Leatherman told WBTV, “If I would have owed him the money I would have paid him. This is not something you argue over.”

The public uproar has caused Shoaf to have a change of heart, though. A day after insisting to WBTV that the family owed him money, Shoaf changed his tune. “We’d like very much so to return the grave marker back to Woodlawn Cemetery and give our appreciation to the media for helping us get this resolved, that the family would not owe us anything, we will mark their bill paid in full,” Shoaf told the station. “We waive all expenses from the Leatherman family. If there are any charges to be paid to the cemetery to have this reinstalled, we will pay all expenses for doing that, and we’re sorry this has happened.”

Shoaf continued, “In hindsight, it was a big mistake to have the cemetery remove it, we see it now, but we do offer the family our condolence, and forgiveness… we hope they forgive us. It has hurt everybody involved, and we hope they have it in their heart to forgive us for it. Our prayers are with the family, and we hope we can be friends down the road.”

After WBTV’s first report aired, the family received an outpouring of support from the community. According to the latest report, “One of those who reached out was Ray Wright, Pit Coach for NASCAR’s Richard Childress Racing who was at the young boy’s funeral with other NASCAR drivers and crew members last year. Wright is giving the family pit passes to the upcoming Martinsville race.”

Regardless of whether Shoaf was legally in the right or not, it’s hard to understand how he didn’t see that it would be a terrible optic to remove the gravestone from a five-year-old’s grave, especially without notifying the family first. In today’s world of 24/7 news and social media, this type of thing will potentially cost Shoaf far more money than what he claims is owed him.

If you’re unsure of whose side you’re on in this unfortunate dispute, you should be aware that “the family asked on Tuesday that anyone wanting to give money should instead donate to local children’s hospitals in Jake Leatherman’s name.”

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