CINCINNATI - An Iraq war veteran's towering SpongeBob SquarePants headstone has been removed from her final resting place because officials at a historic Cincinnati cemetery deemed it inappropriate for their traditional grounds.
The headstone of Kimberly Walker, 28, was made in the likeness of her favorite cartoon character and erected at Spring Grove Cemetery on Oct. 10, almost eight months after she was found slain in a Colorado Springs hotel room.
Walker's family says the cemetery signed off back in March on the design for the seven-foot headstone, a smiling SpongeBob in an Army uniform, with Walker's name and rank.
"She loved Spongebob, and he went everywhere from the curtains to the shower, you know, the bathroom -- everything was Spongebob," the soldier's mother, Deborah Walker, told WLWT-TV.
"Spongebob went in her casket before we laid her down in the ground," the mother said.
So, Walker's family members said they were devastated when the cemetery staffed called them the day after the headstone was installed to say it would have to come down.
Walkers headstone, along with a near-exact duplicate erected for Walker's living twin sister, Kara, who serves in the Navy, have been removed and will not be allowed back up, cemetery President Gary Freytag said Monday.
"We've decided that they aren't appropriate for our historic cemetery and they can't be displayed here," Freytag said, adding that the employee who approved the headstones made an inexplicable error in judgment, given the cemetery's traditional, stately appearance.
Freytag acknowledged that the cemetery is at fault and that staff members would be meeting with Walker's family on Tuesday to try to find a solution, which could include a more traditional gravestone bearing small likeness of the character.
Freytag also said Spring Grove is prepared to reimburse the family for each headstone, which cost a combined $26,000, and pay for new ones.
"I feel terrible that it got to this point but I'm hoping we can come out at the other end of the tunnel with a solution," he said.
Walker was an Army corporal assigned to the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion and served two yearlong tours Iraq in 2006 and 2010 as a petroleum supply specialist, her family said. She was based at Fort Riley, Kansas.
Walker was found dead in a hotel room in Colorado Springs on Valentine's Day this year, strangled and beaten to death. Her boyfriend, an Army sergeant stationed at nearby Fort Carson, was arrested and charged with her killing.
Walker's sister, Kara, said the family is beyond distraught. A lot of thought went into the gravestones, which she said were chosen because her sister loved SpongeBob, even outfitting her entire bedroom with the cartoon character's decorations.
"It is frustrating that you entrust a cemetery to have your best interest at heart and accommodate you and your family at a hard time ... and because they don't like it they're going to take it down," said Kara Walker, 29, an information technician for the U.S. Navy stationed in Naples, Italy.
"My sister served our country and most people try to accommodate veterans and try to take care of them," she said. "For them not to accommodate and respect what my sister sacrificed, not only for my family, but for everyone else in this country, really bothers me."
She said the only way the cemetery can make it up to the family, which she said pre-paid for six plots for $29,000, is to put the headstones back.
"They already brought enough grief and pain to the family," the sister said. "We want what we paid for and what I know my sister would have wanted."