'I just want to be with him': Families plead for Fresno County cemeteries to open back up

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno County cemeteries remain closed to visitors as the county remains in the most restrictive purple tier. The shuttered gates are adding to the grief for many people searching for solace at their loved one's final resting place.

On Monday afternoon, families stood outside, clutching the gates, praying to be near their families once again ahead of the holidays.

In tears, Alejandrina Rivera said, "I stand right here and I watch him and honestly like I said, I'm begging for them to open the cemetery, even if it's just for a couple of hours."

Rivera suddenly lost her brother Joseph Garcia less than four months ago at the age of 31. He was buried next to their grandmother at St. Peters Catholic Cemetery. Rivera visits every week, and now every day since Thanksgiving.

"And all I'm asking is just to be close to him still, I know he's with me, but he lays right there," Rivera said pointing to his headstone in a distance.

But with Fresno County back in the purple tier, the gates to cemeteries are closed to the living. So families like Rivera's family are pleading with management and the county to open up.

"The cemetery is honestly my happy spot now and it became since August. And I just want to be with him even if it's just for a couple of minutes. That's all I'm asking for," Rivera said.

Teresa Vargas Morena lost her husband in June 2019. "For me coming out here and standing at this gate, I feel like the prisoner looking out," Morena said.

Morena's daily routine started feeling more like daily restrictions. "I do understand the COVID thing, but usually when I'm here I sit by his grave, by myself usually and there's nobody around me, so it's hard for me to see them close it up and not be able to go. It gives me a lot of peace to sit there with him," Morena said.

The security guard at the cemetery tells Action News, people have come from as far as Los Angeles or San Diego, to unfortunately be turned around. For one of the those families, he walked their flowers to the memorial for them.

Cemetery director Carlos Rascon says he understands the frustration, but his hands are tied. "We sympathize with their pain and wanting to visit their loved one, it's just that we are having to follow guidelines to prevent the spread," Rascon said.

Rascon said all of the rules are for the protection of guest. According to Rascon, if they don't follow the rules, then the cemetery could get a citation by the Fresno County Sheriff's office.
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