At the end of this school year, Lisa Ann Reyes’ son, Christopher Andrew Lee De La Garza, will graduate from Victoria West High School, but she won’t be there to celebrate.
Reyes was 40 years old when she died April 1 from complications related to diabetes as well as painkillers she took for her kidney troubles. But when she was placed during a funeral service at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery on April 8, her husband, Christopher De La Garza, realized she had been placed in the wrong grave.
“I could have stopped everything right there,” De La Garza said repeatedly while retelling the story of the funeral service. “It could have been chaos.”
In his 18 years as a sexton, Gary Rangnow said he had never made a mistake like this, until that day.
A sexton is a church officer or employee who performs minor duties such as digging graves on church property.
Leading a team of grave diggers for the Diocese of Victoria at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery, Rangnow said he fixed the mistake as soon as he could and owned up to it.
Rather than pausing the service in front of many friends and family, De La Garza said. He decided to remain calm that day and allow the service to go on. Both co-owner of Heaven’s Gate Funeral Home Joey Rodriguez and Rangnow agreed he and everyone remained calm during the service.
It was a hot day, and Rangnow had five grave plots to prepare that day in a new part of the cemetery.
After the service concluded, De La Garza confronted Rangnow and Rodriguez about the mistake.
Within about two hours, they had placed Reyes in the correct place, De La Garza, Rangnow and Rodriguez said.
“We made it right,” Rangnow said. “It wasn’t like we covered the grave up and tried to hide something. As soon as (De La Garza) said that, it kind of flagged me and I thought, you know what, I need to go check.”
For people who think they have been misled or did not receive services as promised from a church or funeral home, complaints can be submitted to the Texas Funeral Service Commission or with the Beter Business Bureau, which compiles them into a report for the Texas Office of the Attorney General, said BBB Regional Director Katie Galan. The more information people can provide, the easier it is for agencies to do their jobs.
“Fortunately, these types of mistakes do not seem to be a common occurrence,” she said. “We do not see many complaints like this reported to BBB.”
Glenn Bower, executive director of the Texas Funeral Service Commission, agreed that interring someone in the wrong place is uncommon.
“I’ve worked at a standalone funeral home as well as a funeral home on a cemetery property,” he said. “From the cemetery’s standpoint, they’re making sure they do everything correctly. But accidents happen.”
Burying a person in the wrong place is not unheard of, said Jim Kennerly, secretary-treasurer of the Texas Cemeteries and Crematories Association.
Rodriguez said at past funeral services he has conducted, he or the sexton has noticed a grave was dug in the incorrect place on the day of the service. On rare occasions that has happened, he said they would delay the service briefly to dig the correct place before interring the person.
In the case of De La Garza’s wife, the mistake has had real emotional consequences.
“I don’t think it was right,” De La Garza said. “If I hadn’t said anything, I don’t think they would have done anything.”
Every night, he said, he and his son have cried about their loss. Between the mourning and anger, he said they are also so sad.
But looking to his son’s high school graduation, De La Garza said he knows he and his wife are proud.
“I told him, once you graduate,” he said,” you’re gonna yell ‘Mama, I did it.’”