June 18, 2010

Peabody flag controversy grows through Facebook

In small towns, words spread fast. On Facebook, they spread even faster. Such was the case in Peabody over Memorial Day weekend when word was that some flags had been vandalized in the local cemetery.

In small towns, words spread fast. On Facebook, they spread even faster. Such was the case in Peabody over Memorial Day weekend when word was that some flags had been vandalized in the local cemetery.

Word had it the flags were casket flags — the kind draped across service members' caskets during funerals.

Word spread to Facebook when Peabody resident and sergeant in the Kansas National Guard Kevin Linscheid posted that he was mad.

"This past Memorial weekend 12 teens cut 9 to 20 of these Flags down, tore them, cut them, piled them in a pile..."

In turn, residents in Peabody are mad at Linscheid for posting the information, some of which was inaccurate, and putting Peabody in a bad light.

Peabody, less than an hour's drive northeast of Wichita in Marion County, has a population of about 1,400.

Linscheid was encouraging his Facebook friends to join him Wednesday for a rally in downtown Peabody to show their support for the flags. He encouraged people to bring flags, ride bikes, pack the streets of Peabody.

He said he had heard from people across the nation — from Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Washington, California and other places — indicating they had planned to be at the rally.

"This is to be a peaceful standing — not a protest," said Linscheid, a former railroad employee now working as a truck driver.

"I will not condone a protest. I don't want to upset or turn this town upside down," he said.

At 4 p.m. Thursday, Linscheid called off the rally. He said it was because of concerns for public safety.

When he wrote the posting, Linscheid said he was mad because it appeared that local authorities weren't pressing charges.

That's not the case, according to Marion County Sheriff Robert Craft, who said the case is still under investigation.

The nine flags, Craft said, had been torn from their flag stands at Prairie Lawn Cemetery near Peabody, ripped, torn and cut — then left on the ground.

"To my knowledge, they were not in a pile," Craft said.

In his posting, Linscheid wrote the flags had been urinated on.

"They were not urinated on," Craft said. "We have suspects. We are doing interviews and getting statements and anticipating that we are within a week of charging the individuals."

All suspects, Craft said, were from Marion County and were a mix of young adults and older juveniles.

"There is so much emotion wrapped up into this," Craft said. "Some of these flags were coffin flags and cannot be replaced. They are flags that are draped over soldiers that had fallen. You can buy another flag but it is not the same one. I am a veteran. And I am thoroughly upset. But we need to proceed with documented proof that we can go to court with, not hearsay. It takes time to cultivate individuals willing to talk."

Craft declined to say what charges could be filed but did say Marion County authorities would be pressing for the most severe penalties that they can, including some on cemetery desecration.

The Peabody Gazette-Bulletin reported June 9 under "Incident Reports" that the estimated cost of damage to the flags was $800.

Craft said the comments on the Facebook postings have proven detrimental to the case.

"This is a very vocal group," Craft said. "They have taken rumors and untrue parts of the story and spread them clear across the country. Facebook is a good tool. None of this is helping our case. The people we are dealing with — when they start seeing the comments and things, they become leery of talking with us. It hurts our investigation."

Linscheid said he understands how small towns work. He spoke with the Marion County sheriff on Wednesday and said he does believe authorities are doing what they can to investigate the case, despite his early posting on Facebook that "no charges are being filed" against the teens.

Linscheid posting those things on Facebook and the outpouring of emotions that followed has some Peabody residents upset.

Locals say the town takes pride in its veterans. Nearly 140 Civil War veterans settled in Peabody during the latter part of the 19th century. Someone from Peabody has served in every war since.

On Memorial Day, the American Legion flies an Avenue of Flags at the cemetery consisting of 198 flags donated by local families. Many of the flags once draped the caskets of men and women who have served their country.

"Our community looks absolutely gorgeous for Memorial Day," said Peabody Police Chief Bruce Burke. "Everybody is upset about the desecration of flags and the complete lack of respect for their country, flag and veterans."

Rev. Jim Pohlman, minister of the Peabody Christian Church, who led the Memorial Day services at the cemetery, said he has a definite idea of what authorities should do in prosecuting the people.

"Put a weed eater in their hands and make them mow around all the headstones in that cemetery for the rest of the summer," said Pohlman, himself a Vietnam veteran. "I want them punished enough so they will never do it again."

Linscheid said he didn't mean to cause tensions in the community over his Facebook posting. But he wants to make sure no one desecrates the flag.

"The simple fact is these flags were in there in the presentation of memorializing those men who are resting in that cemetery," he said. "These are men who have served our country and those flags were desecrated. That is wrong. We don't do that here in the United States. That's not the way I was brought up."

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