MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Police in southeastern Minnesota are looking into a rash of robberies in which thieves target cemeteries, taking brass markers that show a deceased veteran’s military service.

Goodhue County Sheriff Scott McNurlin says in the last month, robberies have happened at cemeteries throughout Goodhue and Olmsted counties. Thefts have been reported in Red Wing, Zumbrota, Cannon Falls, Frontenac, and Oronoco.

“We don’t want to see those markers, those veterans’ graves disgraced by having somebody steal something that identifies their service to our country,” McNurlin said. “A lot of people have looked at this as more heinous than any other type of theft.”

The markers thieves are stealing have a brass post and a star on which the word “veteran” is written. Thieves are trading the brass posts for cash at recycling centers and discarding the stars, because they show the metal is likely stolen from a gravesite.

Police are asking the public’s help in finding those stars.

“We haven’t recovered all the stars, so if you are in a township or a rural area and come across veterans’ stars that are discarded, we’d like a phone call on that,” McNurlin said.

McNurlin thinks the thieves are using the cash to buy heroin and meth. So far, more than 1,000 brass posts are missing. The posts are designed to hold American flags.

State law requires recycling centers to ask for identification when people sell them precious metals. Those names have provided police with a list of possible suspects, some of whom have a history of drug offenses.

“We know that they are directly related to drug trade, and the facilitation of funding for the drug trade,” McNurlin said.

Several community groups have stepped in to try to replace some of the stolen markers. Local VFWs, American Legions and Boy Scout troops have held fundraisers and put down new brass markers.

It costs between $30 and $80 to replace each post. So far, only a small percentage of posts have been replaced.

Police say they’ve questioned a couple of people they think are involved in the theft, but those men denied stealing the brass markers. They say they simply found the metal and then took it to a recycling center for money.

The thefts remain under investigation.

If you have any information on the thefts, or have found veterans’ stars, contact Goodhue County officials with information provided here.