Oct. 22, 2013 at 6:18 PM ET
The family of an Army veteran allegedly slain by her boyfriend in February wants to honor her the best way it knows how — with a giant SpongeBob Squarepants headstone.
The family of Army Sgt. Kimberly Walker received approval from a Cincinnati cemetery for a pair of 6-foot-8-inch-tall, 7,000 pound monuments of her favorite cartoon character. However, a day after they were put at Walker’s gravesite on Oct. 10, they were hauled off by the cemetery. The family spent $26,000 for the two SpongeBob Squarepants granite headstones to honor Kimberly and her twin sister, Kara, who serves in the Navy, but now is in a dispute with the cemetery after it withdrew its approval.
“It’s just unreal,’’ Deborah Walker, Kimberly’s mother, told NBC News. “We just can’t imagine. To have to deal with something like this is atrocious.”
The cemetery has apologized but says it will not reinstate approval.
"The family chose a design with the guidance of a Spring Grove employee who unfortunately made an error in judgment," said a statement issued by the cemetery and obtained by TODAY. "The monument does not fit within Spring Grove Cemetery guidelines, was not approved by senior management, and cannot remain here.”
Walker, 28, had survived two tours of duty in Iraq before she was found beaten and strangled to death in a Colorado hotel room on Valentine's Day, according to court records. Her boyfriend Montrell Mayo, also a soldier, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with her death.
A huge SpongeBob Squarepants fan, Walker had a SpongeBob birthday party every year and her bathroom was outfitted with SpongeBob curtains.
“She was excited about SpongeBob,’’ Deborah Walker said. “That was her love and her passion was SpongeBob. She had this love for SpongeBob, and I think it's because I guess he was this jolly, happy-go-lucky cartoon character.”
There is another SpongeBob Squarepants-themed headstone at a cemetery about an hour away from Spring Grove at the grave of 5-year-old Camden Fairchild.
“We picked out the headstone and monument and size and everything before we contacted the cemetery and never had any friction,’’ Camden’s father, Billy Fairchild, told NBC News.
The Walker family bought six plots at the cemetery to accommodate the large monuments. Kimberly’s personalized headstone also features American flags, Army uniforms and the Number 24 in honor of Jeff Gordon, Kimberly’s favorite NASCAR driver.
Cemetery officials met with the Walker family on Tuesday in hopes of reaching a compromise. "We again apologized for our error and voiced our commitment to find a resolution," said Gary Freytag, Spring Grove's President and CEO, in a statement. The cemetery offered "several proposals" to create alternate headstones for Walker that would incorporate SpongeBob imagery, but no solution was reached.
"The family reiterated their desire to have the monuments re-installed as is, but agreed to consider our proposals," Freytag said. "Spring Grove remains hopeful that a mutually agreeable compromise can be reached."
Earlier in the day, Walker’s mother made it clear the family was standing firm in demanding the original headstone be returned. “We want the SpongeBob back and that is the only thing we are going to settle for,’’ she said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”