There weren’t many places little Oliviah Lundin-Monaco could go to remember her late father in a positive way – but for a time the Peace Park (officially the Lowney/McGrath Park) was the place.
But suddenly last week, the 18 month-old rehabilitated park space – dedicated in the name of those from Charlestown who have been lost to violence or addiction – was suddenly missing.
Hundreds of rocks with the names of loved ones who had been murdered, lost to overdoses or victims of Charlestown’s ultra-violent past were suddenly missing from the Peace Park. Likewise, part of the gold fence that had been painted in 2018 was painted black, and three trees were cut down. Plaques on the benches with quotes about peacefulness were removed and a sign proclaiming the ‘Peace Park’ was ripped down.
When Lundin-Monaco heard about the desecration of the space, she quickly ran up to look for the rock she made for her father, Tim Monaco.
But it was gone.
“My mother and I had made a rock for my dad when we did the Peace Park and they just stole it,” she said on Monday. “I was just so mad and sad because it wasn’t their stuff to touch.”
The Peace Park was an idea conceived by the Charlestown Coalition and the Turn It Around youth group in 2018, and was propelled by a small grant from the City to do the work. The group chose the small park on Lowney Way as it had seemingly been forgotten territory and was unkempt; plus, it had been dedicated to a murder victim, Robert McGrath, many years prior.
Sarah Coughlin of the Coalition said they were having trouble maintaining the park recently, but were seeking out funding from the Community Preservation Act (CPA) to help with maintenance. It was during a scheduled walk-through of the Park with the CPA that she discovered all of the sacred rocks and improvements made in 2018 had been desecrated.
Since that time the issue has ignited, and from one end of the Town to the other, folks have been up in arms. Some are ready to find the person(s) responsible and bring them to justice, and others are focused on moving forward.
Coughlin said a police investigation has been initiated, and police do have a suspect in the matter. As the investigation continues, they will consider charges for the desecration if warranted.
Beyond that, most of the community and the Turn It Around kids are dealing with the emotion of having such a sacred place violated.
“I don’t know what possessed people to take something that came from deep within the hearts of other people – something that came from the pain of deep loss,” said Elaine Donovan, who mentioned that she had left a rock for a baby she lost years ago in pregnancy. “We’re going through the proper channels and we’re going to let the law handle it. We’re choosing to be peaceful about this. It’s hard because it’s like stealing someone’s headstone. It’s so sacred and such a violation. We’re just going to rebuild this place and that’s how we’ll move forward.”
Susan Rawlinson, who had left a rock for her murdered son, Steven Jones, said she was very unsettled.
“I’m very unsettled because my son’s rock is missing,” she said. “This place, no matter how many times I went by it, it was a place where the community came together to remember people like my son Steven, or Robert McGrath. It was a peace garden. Basically, right now, despite the adversity, this is going to allow us to gain new momentum to start a new effort.”
Michael ‘Smokey’ Cain had left multiple rocks for his family members, including his son Michael who overdosed fatally only a few years back. He said whomever took the rocks and desecrated the park ignored the pain and vulnerability it took for people to put those rocks out publicly.
“It’s not that often you have an opportunity to represent the memory of a dead child,” he said. “It’s so hard to get people to come out publicly to remember such a painful thing – to peel away the wound again and be truly vulnerable. That happened once. It happened here. Now it’s been taken away, and that really hurts.”
Crystal Galvin of the Kennedy Center said if one of the Turn It Around teens had desecrated a park in Charlestown in the same fashion, they would have already been caught and held accountable. Now, she said, it’s time to rally around them and let them know that the community appreciated what they did.
“I think the act is so egregious,” she said. “If the tables were turned, there would have been a witch hunt for these kids and they would have been hauled in quickly. It’s a community here and I think it’s important we stand with them now.”
Coughlin said the group of kids are resilient, and she has learned those who participated in the Peace Park outside of the group are also just as resilient. So, the move at the moment is to gather support from the community and put all of the raw emotion into rebuilding what was there.
“It’s a really strong, resilient group of young people who are not unfamiliar with overcoming adversity,” she said. “It’s not the first time they’ve had unfair and ugly things happen in their lives…Some of them have expressed that Charlestown doesn’t want them in the Town and they’re not welcome in their community, but we’re challenging that. It’s not an us versus them situation. It’s a small group of people who didn’t want this here. When we did this, it was not just a Turn It Around event. It was people from all over the community who came together for peace. It was a unifying event, and I think people will unify over this once again.”
Shannon White of the Coalition said there has been a GoFundMe page started for the repair and restoration of the Peace Park, and that Jenae Ricci of Starbucks has volunteered to host rock painting gatherings at the store in Thompson Square.
The fundraising page can be found at gofundme.com under the ‘Peace Park Rebuild’ campaign.