Woman arrested after green paint is splattered in Washington National Cathedral chapels

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the woman charged with defacing property due to an error by D.C. police. This version has been updated.

A wave of vandalism continued to mar some of Washington’s more popular landmarks Monday with at least three more attractions spattered with green paint, and authorities announced the arrest of a woman near one of the incidents at Washington National Cathedral.

The latest crimes occurred three days after the Lincoln Memorial was hit in similar fashion. On Monday, the light-green paint was discovered on an organ in the cathedral’s Bethlehem Chapel, in the cathedral’s Children’s Chapel and on the granite base of a statue next to the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall.

D.C. police said Monday evening that they had charged Jiamei Tian, 58, whom they believe to be homeless, with one count of defacing property.

The mysterious markings on the statue of Abraham Lincoln blemished one of the country’s most visited attractions and an iconic symbol of freedom. In the cathedral, they tarnished what is widely known as the nation’s house of worship — and a building still under repair after an earthquake two years ago caused such severe damage that it closed for three months.

A church spokesman called the destruction “heartbreaking” but said it could be repaired. The cathedral was closed for several hours Monday afternoon — the first time since the earthquake — but it reopened in time for an evening concert with its choir and the Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.


(The Washington Post)

“It’s just disappointing,” said Nick Schwei, 25, from Milwaukee, who tried to tour the cathedral but was turned away by police. “First the Lincoln Memorial, now this. It’s just very sad. Two different incidents of beautiful things damaged.”

Authorities were still trying to determine late Monday whether any of the destruction is connected. They said they would test paint samples to determine whether the same material was used at each of the locations.

By evening, investigators with the U.S. Park Police, who are probing the spatters on the Mall, had arrived at the D.C. police department’s 2nd District station, where Tian was being questioned. According to two police officials with knowledge of the investigation, the Park Police, in their investigation of the Lincoln Memorial incident, had been looking for an Asian woman who possibly was homeless.

She had been arrested in the Children’s Chapel as D.C. police searched the church after paint was found about 2 p.m. on an organ in the Bethlehem Chapel. The basement chapel, built in 1912, is one of the oldest parts of the building. It was the site of President Woodrow Wilson’s funeral in 1924 and his entombment for several decades.

Authorities said the paint was still wet, and the fresh crime scene prompted a quick response and frantic search through a labyrinth of chapels and alcoves. Authorities then found more paint — and the woman— in the Children’s Chapel, just off the nave. The small prayer room is built to the scale of a 6-year-old child, with a baptismal font and small kneelers.

Pictures of the damage released by the cathedral show paint sprayed or thrown onto an organ’s pipes in the Bethlehem Chapel. Paint is also visible on the floor and on a large card identifying the organ, which was built in the 1950s. In the Children’s Chapel, the paint is evident on the floor and on the sides of church pews. The paint also damaged a mural.

Cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg said workers would soon begin scrubbing off the paint. He estimated the damage at $15,000.

More than 1,000 people a day typically tour the cathedral during the high season; the church draws about a half-million visitors a year. On Monday, those who came made the best of the unexpected closure.

On the hilltop alongside Wisconsin Avenue NW, where the limestone cathedral soars above the city, children chased each other across the sun-flecked lawn and camera-toting tourists snapped photos and chatted in several languages.

Melanie Martinez, 30, of east Texas had been on a tour that started at 3:30 p.m., but the group was ushered out without explanation after about 20 minutes.

“I don’t know why anyone would destroy our history,” she said. “There was so much more that I wanted to see. I’d like to go up in the tower.” She might come back before her vacation ends Friday.

The cathedral was closed when Sybille Eder, visiting from Kiel, Germany, arrived with her family. “I think people just do vandalism to get the attention of the press,” she said.

Another report Monday described paint found on a statue of Martin Luther in Northwest Washington’s Thomas Circle. Gwendolyn Crump, a D.C. police spokeswoman, said police are aware of the report and are investigating.

The damage at the Lincoln Memorial was first reported about 1:30 a.m. Friday by people out for a late-night stroll. One of the women told The Washington Post that she discovered two 20-ounce Mountain Dew bottles overflowing with green and white paint, as well as white footprints near the inscription of the Gettysburg Address.

Carol Johnson, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, said that workers have removed 90 percent of the paint but that it will be several more days before scaffolding alongside the 91-ton statue is removed.

On Friday night, a man e-mailed The Post to say that green paint also been splashed on a statue near the Smithsonian Castle, the museum’s administrative headquarters. A spokeswoman for the Park Service, as well as the Park Police, said no such damage had occurred.

On Monday morning, Linda St. Thomas, the chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution, said green paint was found splotched in two places on the base of the bronze statue of Joseph Henry outside the Smithsonian Castle. Henry was the museum’s first secretary, and he died in the Castle in 1878.

St. Thomas said the paint will be removed within one or two days.

Michael E. Ruane and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

Julie Zauzmer is a local news reporter.
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