Most people agree there's nothing worse for parents than the loss of a child, no matter how old.
But the grief endured by Chris and Sandy Kinkelaar, of rural Effingham, has been compounded by the theft of memorial items at the site where their son, Jesse, was involved in a fatal ATV wreck this past summer.
The Kinkelaars believe somebody removed the items early Saturday morning. An Effingham County sheriff's deputy reported seeing the memorial intact at about 1 a.m. that day.
But by the time a nearby resident passed the memorial site on 2000th Avenue northwest of Effingham, everything was gone.
"It was picked clean," said Chris. "We have our suspicions, but we can't say."
Chris said the culprit might have been someone upset with one of the surviving family members. But he said that's no excuse.
"If somebody's mad at us, take it out on us," he said.
"What makes it worse is that the holidays are coming up," mom Sandy added. "It's so disrespectful. It's no different than somebody going to the cemetery and defacing his headstone."
The memorial was centered around a wooden cross with Jesse's name and his dates of birth and death. Other items stolen from the site include a solar light, name plaque, concrete deer, pumpkin, candles, flower arrangements and two American flags.
The Kinkelaars are offering a $700 reward for information leading to the return of the stolen items. Chris said the family first offered a $250 reward, using Facebook to get out the word. Pledges from social media users, however, have enabled the family to increase the reward.
The Kinkelaars have been looking for the items themselves.
"We've been driving around looking in ditches and over the edge of bridges," Sandy said.
Chris believes the items may still turn up.
"I believe this is all going to be found on a dirt road somewhere," he said. "It's out there somewhere."
Older sister Jennifer said the incident has been upsetting, to say the least.
"I have been really hurt by it," she said. "It's very disrespectful to friends and family. I'm really still in shock, because I can't believe someone would do that."
The family has already put up another cross topped with bright-colored balloons to make the memorial site more visible.
Those with information on the stolen items are encouraged to call the Kinkelaars at 217-254-5389.
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