POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Authorities have arrested two Florida men for stealing the remains of veterans from a local cemetery for ritualistic purposes, according to reports.
Brian Montalvo Tolentino, 43, of Davenport and Juan Burgos Lopez, 39, of Lake Wales were arrested in connection to remains missing from vaults at Mount Dora’s Edgewood Cemetery, Lake County authorities said.
The men were charged with four counts of disturbing the contents of a grave and four counts of abuse of a dead human body, Bay News 9 reported.
Three of the four tombs raided in early December belonged to members of the armed forces. Two were Army combat veterans who served in World War I and the Korean War. The other was a Marine who served as a military police officer, Fox News reported.
Detectives from Lake County found evidence of a “ritual” carried out in the vaults as well as a number of cigars, which provided DNA evidence to identify Tolentino, Bay News 9 reported.
Tolentino reportedly confessed to the crime and named Lopez as his accomplice, saying he used a crowbar to open the vaults, according to ABC Action News.
As a result, detectives searched Lopez’s home. They found skulls, a hand and other large bones, according to reports.
“There were seven skulls in this, if you will, shrine,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. “Of the seven skulls, we determined five of them were human skulls and two of them were plaster replicas.”
“He referred to the cemeteries as holy sites and shopping centers,” Judd added, referring to Lopez. “Did you hear what I said? He considers cemeteries shopping centers.”
Lopez has no criminal history but runs an after-school-care program at a karate center and is a former Puerto Rico law enforcement officer, according to the sheriff. Furthermore, he said Lopez was a “tata,” or religious leader.
“It rips my heart out to think that the graves of these veterans, these heroes, were disturbed for the purposes of creating the Palo shrine,” Judd said.