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Families visit graves as troubled Galilee cemetery reopens

BARTLETT, Tenn. — Galilee Memorial Gardens reopened this weekend for the first time since the state took over the Bartlett cemetery in 2014, following the former owner's criminal charges as well as a lawsuit for stacking graves and other mismanagement.

Hundreds came by to pay respects to family members and loved ones. The cemetery will be open now on weekends and holidays from 8:30 to 5:30.

Larry Matthews, who has relatives buried at Galilee, cleaned off his brother’s grave. He also brushed away years of frustration, now turned to relief.

"It means a lot to be able to come and see the site where they’re buried,” he said.

Matthews was able to visit his brother and mother at their final resting place for the first time in years.

They're one of hundreds of families impacted by gross mismanagement at the cemetery that led to criminal charges and a lawsuit filed against the former owner.

"It’s been a situation where we didn’t know what was going on. We wanted to know but couldn’t get in touch with anyone,” Matthews said.

Thomas Word also has loved ones buried there, including his parents. He tries to cut the grass back and maintain the plot as best he can.

"When they had [closed and] it taped off, I walked over the tape and came in. I put flowers on there,” he said.

The state has now appointed a receiver to take care of the grounds, though a sign still warns people about the dangerous conditions on the grounds.

"It’s improved now," Matthews said. "I hate to say what it used to look like. I can’t explain it. What we’ve been told, is horrifying.”

Families also say they still are having trouble finding specific headstones, and the receiver said there are several mass graves on the property that are not labeled.

The receiver said he has a map of all the graves they’ve been able to find. If you’re having trouble locating a loved one on the property, you can contact Receivership Management Inc. at 615-370-0051.

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