By Lauren Victory

(CBS) — A controversy at a local cemetery, after workers there cleared flowers, toys and other mementos from gravesites.

Families say they were shocked to find the gravesites bare. But reps for the cemetery say they had warned relatives for months, CBS 2’s Lauren Victory reports.

The cemetery manager says this was not done maliciously. But some say the latest cleanup went too far.

Joseph Heath browses through a sentimental stockpile at Joliet’s Elmhurst Cemetery, including signs for mom and dad and decorations for veterans. He can’t find the items he left for his infant son, including a cross and toys.

Missing mementos or damaged ones are angering a lot of families who buried loved ones here.

Grounds crews removed the graveside items as part of a fall clean-up.

“For them to just do this without notice is harsh and cruel,” Heath says.

The cemetery says a sign warning about an October cleaning has been posted since June.

Managers explained in a lengthy Facebook post said the mementos can turn into tripping hazards when they are covered in snow.

“I read their explanation. I don’t accept their apology,” says Michele Allcut, whose mother and brother are buried at Elmhurst Cemetery. She says some statues were broken.

“It’s a shame. Yesterday was my crying day. Today, I’m a little upset and mad,” adds Lisa Harvey.

Managers say they’re reviewing the criticism they’ve received and anticipate a tweak in procedures for the next clean-up.

Lauren Victory