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About this time every year I notice two or three letters to the editor in Utah County newspapers with a similar plea: the return of items stolen from cemeteries and a declaration of how atrocious it is to take such sentimental items.

Evidently the pleas for this insensitive crime to stop have not reached the ears of those responsible, because cities are receiving more complaints each year concerning the theft of flowers and other items off of graves.How common is this crime?

Jack Jones, Orem's director of public works, said he has received about six complaints this year from residents who placed flowers and other items on graves the Saturday before Memorial Day and found them missing two days later. These residents represent only the ones who called to complain. Who knows how many cemetery-theft victims there really are? Jones himself even fell victim once to the cemetery flower thieves.

So who is responsible?

Is it mischievous juveniles late at night or is it someone older who appreciates a fine flower arrangement but has no respect for the rights of others?

Jones said he believes the reported thefts occurred at night but believes the latter type of people is responsible. Why? Because the flowers that came up missing were expensive silk flowers, and most fresh flower arrangements were left undisturbed.

Jones said it is difficult to keep people from stealing items from cemeteries. It is easy for someone to take things during the day because nobody is going to question them, and Orem's 11 p.m. curfew on its cemetery is difficult to enforce. The city has considered installing gates at the cemetery entrance, but Jones doubts that would have any effect.

The problem is a difficult one, but do people really know how difficult it can be? A recent telephone call I received and a letter in the Orem-Geneva Times reminded me.

The letter was from Melanie Liddiard, who expressed disbelief that anyone could be "so small" as to steal a rose bouquet and several stuffed animals from her infant's grave. She said she fell to the ground in tears when she noticed most of the items acquired during her child's four months of life missing.

The telephone call was from Lorraine Hill, aunt of Jason Overman, the Orem youth who died last year after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Someone had stolen some wreaths and stuffed animals off of Jason's grave. She said Jason's mother was devastated when the items came up missing.

Both instances reminded me of an incident in my life. Our first child died shortly after birth. One of her only possessions was a flower arrangement in a bonnet made by my mother. We placed it on her grave the first Memorial Day after her death, and it was gone the next day. My wife cried for a day straight.

I think Hill summed the problem up perfectly: "The things that people leave behind are kind of the only link you have to them. How someone can take those things and hurt someone who has already been hurt is hard to believe."

People leave many precious and sentimental things behind, but because of a few insensitive people some of those precious things are now in the hands of strangers.

(Jim Rayburn, Springville, is a staff writer in the Deseret News' Utah County bureau.)