D.C. police probing widespread tree carvings in NW make an arrest

March 13

The mysterious markings resembling crop circles carved into trees in Northwest Washington began appearing Monday along streets stretching from Bloomingdale to Shaw.

The destruction seemed indiscriminate — mature oaks to freshly planted sycamores were targeted. It also seemed methodical — upward of 15 trees damaged on single blocks, some with several circles on the trunks and forged with a brick deep into the bark.

When workers for the D.C. Urban Forestry division finished counting, they had found more than 100 damaged trees in two neighborhoods. It’s uncertain whether all the trees will survive. But more damaging is the hit on the neighborhood psyche.

A D.C. police officer arrested a man Wednesday morning after seeing him deface a tree on the southwest corner of Ninth and P streets in Shaw, according to a police report. Bonerje Hernandez, 45, whose last known address was in Northwest, was charged in a criminal citation with destruction of property and released. His next court date had not been set.

The police report offers no rationale, leaving residents angry and perplexed.

“We’re working to make the city better. It hasn’t looked like this in years,” said Khadijah Huggins-El, 39, who lives in Shaw. Added Ben Houston, 23, of Bloomingdale, “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Martin Moulton, who lives in Shaw and is the public-safety representative for the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said that police searching for evidence in a weekend shooting led him to discover the damage. On Monday, he joined officers in the 1500 block of Fifth Street NW looking at trees to see whether a bullet had become lodged in a trunk. He saw damage in one tree, then in another and in yet another. In all, he said, 10 trees on that block had circles carved in them.

Moulton put the word out on a police district Internet mailing list, and calls poured in to officers and the D.C. Urban Forestry division. Less than an hour after an arrest was made two days later, Police Cmdr. Jacob Kishter, head of the 3rd Police District, posted on the Internet bulletin board, “Due to swift action of our officers this morning we made an arrest in this case.”

Earl Eutsler, a supervisor with the forestry division, said his staff will keep a careful watch over the damaged trees. When the calls first came in, he said, the staff thought they were “wild-goose chase calls.” But when they were investigated, he said, “we started noticing some very strange damage.”

The damage could easily be in the thousands of dollars, he said, noting that it was too early to know whether any of the trees are in danger of dying. “Some may very well decline and ultimately die as a result of the injuries,” Eutsler said. Referring to smog, exhaust and other urban phenomena, he added: “The street is a very hostile environment. This is an additional stress.”

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