Pastor Returns Gravestone of Boy Who Died From Cancer After Removing It Over Parents' Unpaid Bill

(Photo: Facebook; Leatherman family.Jake Leatherman, 5 (L) died of juvenile leukemia in 2016.

A North Carolina pastor whose company ripped out the gravestone of a 5-year-old boy who died from cancer because his parents allegedly didn't complete the payments for the item has now had a change of heart after public outcry.

"We'd like very much so to return the grave marker back to Woodlawn Cemetery and give our appreciation to the media for helping us get this resolved, that the family would not owe us anything, we will mark their bill paid in full," JC Shoaf of Southeastern Monument Company who has been a minister for 50 years told WBTV Tuesday.

Wayne and Crystal Leatherman of Hickory, North Carolina, told WBTV that nearly a year ago they buried their 5-year-old son, Jake, who died from leukemia. Still trying to recover from her loss, Crystal Leatherman said she was left in shock after she found out on her most recent visit to the cemetery that her late son's gravestone was gone. In its place was a big hole full of mud.

"He (Shoaf) repossessed it, like it was a car," Crystal Leatherman told WBTV. "This is my lowest point."

Shoaf, 73, insisted that he was forced to repossess the gravestone supplied by his company because Jake's parents owed him money for the item.

"If you buy something, you've got to pay for it. No matter what it is," Shoaf told the local news outlet. He explained that the Leathermans had fully paid for a marker for their son's grave but they later made some changes that increased the cost.

He said he allowed them to place the gravestone without paying for the additional costs right away because he realized it was tough on them and he knew what it was like to lose a child.

"Because they had been through so much emotionally, grieving so hard, I thought we'd just go ahead and do it," he said.

When they failed to pay for the additional costs, Shoaf said he was forced to take action. The couple told WBTV that if they had known about the additional costs they would have paid.

"If I would have owed him the money I would have paid him," Crystal Leatherman said. "This is not something you argue over."

Shoaf later said his company would "waive all expenses from the Leatherman family. If there are any charges to be paid to the cemetery to have this reinstalled, we will pay all expenses for doing that, and we're sorry this has happened."

After the Leathermans went public with their dispute over the bill, members of the public shamed Shoaf for his actions.

"He placed marker 'out of goodwill' because the family has been thru so much emotionally. Where's the 'goodwill' now? Been there for a year and he takes it back? No says I! Robbed a grave. Sent no invoices with extra charges? Sounds more like he's in financial trouble. Folks of this city — stop doing business with him. Thinking this man bit his nose off to spite his face," Debra Street-Kilgore wrote in response to the report.

And reactions like Kilgore's helped Shoaf to see he had made a "big mistake."

"We waive all expenses from the Leatherman family. If there are any charges to be paid to the cemetery to have this reinstalled, we will pay all expenses for doing that, and we're sorry this has happened," Shoaf said in his apology to the family.

"In hindsight, it was a big mistake to have the cemetery remove it, we see it now, but we do offer the family our condolence, and forgiveness," he said. "We hope they forgive us. It has hurt everybody involved, and we hope they have it in their heart to forgive us for it. Our prayers are with the family, and we hope we can be friends down the road."