coal valley, niabi zoo, missing memorials

Memorials taken down at Niabi Zoo without notice

COAL VALLEY, Illinois-- Over seventy memorials have been taken down at the Niabi Zoo. No one was notified of the decision that happened over a year ago.

Jo Ann Rodgers found out through a friend.

"She said I can see where plaques used to be on benches," said Rodgers. She says her nephew loved animals and the zoo which is why they chose to put up his memorial there in 2011 after fighting for his life for five years.

Family members and friends stopped by the memorial for six years to take a picture. The pictures stopped last year and now they know why.

"I went to Niabi Zoo`s page to look to see if maybe they posted something like 'hey we`re taking these down come and pick them up," said Rodgers. Nothing was up on the page.

Brayden's plaque was one of two memorials for the family. Their grandmother, Sarah Smet, also had a plaque there.

"The zoo was always really important to her and she really cherished that and really loved the train tracks so my uncle chose that spot for her," said Jessica Nagle. Nagle and her family visits the memorial every year to have a happy memory.

"They had benches with plaques near exhibits that were very special to them but that's something that we can't really guarantee for the long run because the zoo is changing," said Lee Jackson. Jackson became the zoo director two years ago and made the decision to remove the plaques.

He says most of the memorials were old and damaged. The remaining plaques sit in an office.

Jackson has a new idea for the memorials. A garden made just for the memorials to keep them all in one place.

"There was no disrespect meant. We wanted to do this better, we wanted to provide something that was a better way to honor your loved ones and your interest in the zoo," said Jackson.

The new area will come at no extra cost but for the families of Sarah and Brayden it isn't enough.

"We`re going to be looking for another memorial for her but it`s just something that should not have been done," said Nagle.