Field study may find many unmarked graves near West Tampa cemetery

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A ground-penetrating radar survey conducted this week in a field adjacent to the Marti-Colon Cemetery in West Tampa could alter plans for the development of the area.

A Jewish group is looking to purchase the land to open a new cemetery for people of their faith.

For years, there have been reports of undocumented and unmarked graves in the area.

On Tuesday, the group seeking to purchase the property paid for a GPR survey of the area. The crew performing the GPR work placed flags in the field indicating areas with underground anomalies. Those anomalies could indicate unmarked graves.

Aileen Henderson with the cemetery society says there is no doubt in her mind that’s what the red flags indicate.

“If you notice, there are patterns to these flags. Most of them are in a rectangle shape, and if you look from than angle, or this angle, they line up with the headstones,” said Henderson.

“I have mother, great grandmother and grandparents buried there,” Mike Nikolau said.

He said it’s been known for years there are people buried in the cemetery that were never documented.

“I can attest to the fact that when my mother passed in ’98, the city had informed us, before they could inter her into the ground there, they had to probe to insure there were no other bodies buried in that plot,” said Nikolau.

He said he hopes the group seeking to buy the property will do the right thing, based on the GPR study.

“I’ve got a lot of questions. What are you going to do if you’ve probed, if you’ve done ground penetrating and you find there are anomalies, are you relocating, are you not relocating, are you going to keep the people in the sacred ground they are in?” Nikolau wondered.

Sonjia Perez also has family buried in the existing cemetery and initially had no objections to having a new Jewish Cemetery adjacent to where her family is buried.

“A cemetery back there would be appropriate, regardless of religion because I’m sure there are Jewish people buried here, you know,” said Perez.

Her opinion changed when she saw all of the red flags in the field.

“It’s just that you have to treat the people who are interred there with respect,” said Perez.

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