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Armed guards watch over North Seattle cemetery after vandalism, homeless complaints

Families said they were forced to bring in security because of ongoing complaints about homeless campers, vandalism and just on Tuesday, people having sex on the tombstones at the Sephardic Jewish cemeteries in North Seattle. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - For the first time, armed guards watched over the children placing flags at historic Jewish cemeteries in North Seattle Wednesday night.

Families said they were forced to bring in security because of ongoing complaints about homeless campers, vandalism and just on Tuesday, people having sex on the tombstones.

Every year for a more than a decade, children come to honor the sacrifice of fallen veterans just before Memorial Day, but this year there's a first at the Bikur Cholim and historic Sephardic Jewish cemeteries—armed security guards. Former Israeli Defense Forces keeping a close eye on the children placing 200 flags on veteran’s graves ahead of the holiday.

"We fear for our safety,” said Ari Hoffman with the Bikur Cholim Synagogue. “We’re very concerned about that.”

The cemetery has been marred with drug needles, trash and human waste they blame on homeless campers.

On Tuesday, a groundskeeper said he caught a couple having sex on the tombstones. Seattle Police took a report and said the couple denied having sex at the cemetery, so they let them go.

Veteran Bob Shay, who started the program said safety was priority.

"It's the job of those who return to remember those who did not return home,” said Shay. “We didn't want the kids to be out here if there was going to be a problem."

Problems families said they can't afford to keep paying for the guards, except for this special night where they didn't want to take any chances.

“We had to spend $110,000 cleaning up this place,” said Hoffman. “People think I'm going overboard. I don't think I've done enough. If we really wanted to solve this, we would have armed security every single night. I just don't know if can afford that."

Hoffman said families are still tallying up the cost of the damage done at the cemetery and hope to file a damage claim with the city in the near future.

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