Why Tian might have tarnished some of the most visible emblems of the capital city remains a mystery. Those landmarks surrounded her uncertain existence, which has proved difficult to trace.
Tian is from China, doesn’t speak much English, and is believed by authorities to suffer from mental illness. But little else has emerged about this 58-year-old woman since her arrest last week after a four-day outbreak of vandalism in which churches, statues and the nation’s hallowed memorial to Abraham Lincoln were splashed with paint.
A motive for the attacks remains as elusive as Tian’s story, both in China and in the United States. Only fragments have emerged from police reports, court documents, hearings and interviews with investigators, advocates for the homeless, church administrators, and the men and women who live in the park.
Tian’s given name means “beautiful woman” in Chinese. The regulars in Edward R. Murrow Park, at 1800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, called her “Jan.” She has been spotted at churches, soup kitchens and green spaces from downtown Washington to the U.S. Capitol, at Thomas Circle and as far north as the Chevy Chase traffic circle.
Some of Tian’s travels are documented in police reports.
Now in custody, she has been charged with spattering green paint on religious statues and an organ at Washington National Cathedral, where officers found her hiding in a restroom stall last Monday with green paint on her shoes.
Authorities said Tian is suspected of similar attacks at Luther Place Memorial Church at Thomas Circle in Northwest Washington — where paint mixed with feces and urine was found on the choir organ — and of vandalizing statues outside the church and the Smithsonian Castle. They also linked her to paint found at the Lincoln Memorial. A detective testified in D.C. Superior Court on Friday that paint footprints under the inscription of the Gettsyburg Address match Tian’s shoes.
Tian has declined to tell investigators where she lived in the District, where she is from or how she got here, authorities said. Federal immigration officials would say only that she came to the United States on a short-term visa that expired July 27, in the midst of the rash of vandalism. Citing privacy concerns, they declined to reveal the date she arrived in this country or her city of entry. One of Tian’s attorneys confirmed in court last week that she came to this country on a tourist visa.
When she was arrested, Tian was carrying a 12-ounce bottle of cocktail sauce, a clear bag, a tie-dye shirt, shorts and some multicolored socks, according to a police report.