U.S. authorities are investigating whether a Chinese-born woman is responsible for the worst series of vandalism of historic sites in Washington in recent years.
Fifty-eight-year-old Jiamei Tian is awaiting a second court hearing in the U.S. capital Friday, in connection with the splashing of green paint at the Washington National Cathedral, where she was arrested Monday.
Timeline of Vandalism of Washington Historic Sites with Paint
Thursday, July 25
Friday, July 26
Green paint discovered on the Statue of Martin Luther, Luther Place Memorial Church
Sunday, July 28
Green paint found on the Lincoln Memorial
Green symbols discovered on Statue of Joseph Henry, Smithsonian Castle
Monday, July 29
Jiamei Tian attends morning services at Luther Place Memorial Church. A mixture of paint, urine & feces found later inside church sanctuary
Tuesday, July 30
Green paint discovered in the Children’s Chapel and Bethlehem Chapel of Washington National Cathedral
Jiamei Tian arrested in bathroom next to Bethlehem Chapel
Jiamei Tian appears in DC Superior Court, charged with felony destruction of property
A police officer found Tian with several paint cans inside the cathedral soon after green paint was thrown onto decorative objects in two chapels. She also had green paint on her shoes.
The woman's detention followed the discovery of several other cases of vandalism involving paint at Washington historic sites on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Police believe the incidents are connected.
Tian made her first court appearance on Tuesday to face a charge of felony destruction of property for allegedly causing the damage at the cathedral. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The court ordered her to remain in custody because of concerns that she might flee if granted bail.
Officials involved in the hearing said Tian's English is weak. They also said she has revealed little about her herself to police, besides claiming that she lives in Los Angeles.
DC police chief Cathy Lanier told a local television station the woman may have mental issues.
Prior to her arrest, Tian attended a Sunday morning service at Washington's Luther Place Memorial Church.
Its administrator, Jack Reiffer, told VOA that several congregants shook her hand in a traditional Christian greeting, but noticed that she did not engage in conversation.
"Most people took her to be a homeless person who was sitting in on the service," Reiffer said. "That would have been fairly common here. We frequently have folks that we have not met before who come off the street and sit in the sanctuary."
He said several congregants returned to the sanctuary after the service and discovered that a mixture of paint, urine and feces had been splattered onto an organ and chairs around the pulpit, prompting them to call police.
The church already had informed police about a previous case of vandalism on Thursday, when green paint was found on its statue of Martin Luther outside the sanctuary. It was the earliest of the reported incidents.
Similar vandalism with green paint was discovered the next day at Washington’s Lincoln Memorial and the statue of John Henry outside the Smithsonian Castle.
Damage estimates for the church, cathedral and Lincoln Memorial each run into thousands of dollars.
National Mall and Memorial Parks spokeswoman Carol Johnson told VOA the last major vandalism of a National Park monument in Washington was in 1962.
“On the 100th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation, the backside of the Lincoln statue was vandalized and there was a racial epithet written in large pink letters,” Johnson said.
“During the protests of the 1960s and 70s, apparently there were smaller amounts of vandalism with people spray painting, but nothing of the magnitude of the latest incident.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia, Bill Miller, said there have been no recent vandalism cases in the city like those of the past week.
Court documents showed Tian had a U.S. visa that expired on Saturday. It is not clear how her immigration status will affect the court proceedings against her.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a question from VOA about whether it has provided any assistance to the Chinese citizen.