HICKORY, NC (WBTV) - The owner of a monument company that repossessed a 5-year-old's grave marker after a dispute says they will replace the marker at no expense to the family.
It's been nearly a year since Wayne and Crystal Leatherman buried their 5-year-old son, Jake, after he lost a long battle with leukemia. Crystal Leatherman told WBTV Monday that she was stunned when she recently went to visit her son's grave and the grave marker was gone.
JC Shoaf, with Southeastern Monument Company, said he had the stone removed because he said the family didn't pay money owed.
On Tuesday, Shoaf offered an apology along with a statement after WBTV aired the story on Monday night.
"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 said. "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."
"If you buy something, you've got to pay for it. No matter what it is," JC Shoaf said on Monday.
He claimed the couple did pay in full for a stone, but then made a number of changes, adding up a larger bill.
"It was my first time in 54 years [that] I've had this problem," Shoaf said.
When asked why he placed the stone without a full payment, Shoaf said he did it out of good will.
"Because they had been through so much emotionally, grieving so hard, I thought we'd just go ahead and do it," he said on Monday.
At the same time, the Leathermans said they were never told about any increase in cost.
"If I would have owed him the money I would have paid him," Crystal Leatherman said. "This is not something you argue over."
Shoaf said it was all about paying his workers, but that he felt for the family.
"They've been through an awful lot, I know that. 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," Shoaf said.
After the story aired on Monday, multiple people and organizations reached out to help the Leatherman family. 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.
The family asked on Tuesday that anyone wanting to give money should instead donate to local children's hospitals in Jake Leatherman's name.