WASHINGTON – A woman charged with defacing the Washington National Cathedral was carrying what appeared to be a soda can containing green paint when she was arrested, and she has been linked to at least four other incidents of vandalism, including at the Lincoln Memorial, according to prosecutors and court documents.
Jiamei Tian, 58, appeared in D.C. Superior Court Tuesday alongside a Mandarin translator.
The woman was arrested Monday at the cathedral, where she is accused of using green paint to deface an organ and decorative woodwork in two separate chapels.
She’s been charged with defacing and destroying private property. A judge on Tuesday ordered her held without bond.
Authorities believe the green paint vandalism was part of a pattern of similar acts. Green paint was discovered splattered onto the Lincoln Memorial early Friday morning, and it was also reported Friday on a statue of Joseph Henry — the Smithsonian’s first secretary — outside the Smithsonian headquarters on the National Mall.
The woman, who has a Chinese passport, arrived in Washington a few days ago and was traveling on an expired visa, prosecutors said. Police said she had no fixed address but that she told officers she lived in Los Angeles.
According to court documents, the woman is also suspected of vandalizing a statue of Martin Luther on Thomas Circle in downtown Washington, which was also hit with green paint.
Following her arrest, a witness contacted police and reported that a person matching the woman’s description had been seen attending a service at a church less than a block from Thomas Circle, according to court documents.
The witness reported that the woman was carrying three bags with her. After she left, the witness found that a pipe organ in the church had been splattered with white paint, urine and feces, documents show.
Tian was arrested inside the cathedral’s Children’s Chapel on Monday afternoon, shortly after the still-wet green paint was discovered there. When a police officer approached her, she walked away and placed the can with green paint inside one of three bags that were sitting on chairs in the chapel, documents show.
She also had green paint on her clothing, shoes and body, according to the documents.
She was wearing a multicolored sock on her right arm, and a similar sock was found in a trash can in a bathroom at the cathedral on top of a can of green paint, according to the documents.
The bags placed in the chapel also had paint cans in them, the documents show.
The paint clean-up continues
Efforts to remove green paint from two chapels inside the National Cathedral continued Tuesday. Gold Leaf Studios had finished most of the cleanup of the paint that damaged Children’s Chapel.
As work on that chapel continues, so does the cleanup of the Bethlehem Chapel.
“The technicians are cleaning the paint that was thrown on the organ. It splattered the keys, the wood-paneled walls, the pipe casings and a bit on the floor,” said National Cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg.
Cleanup of both chapels should be finished Wednesday. Both will remain closed while the work is done.
The cost for the cleanup will run $15,000, said Weinberg, who called the vandalism “heartbreaking.”
“This is an unfortunate act of vandalism that adds to the cathedral’s financial needs,” Weinberg said.
A music department employee discovered the damage about 2 p.m. Monday.
Weinberg says Tian, the woman charged, “deserves our prayers.”
Efforts to question Tian about the other acts of vandalism, including at the Lincoln Memorial, have been complicated by a language barrier, The Associated Press reported.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier told NewsChannel 8 that it looks like the vandalism at the National Cathedral may be related to the other vandalism incidents.
“Right now we are trying to see if they are connected; they certainly appear to be,” Lanier says. “If the same person is responsible and what the motive is for the incidents … we don’t really know.”
Crews continue to work on cleanup at the Lincoln Memorial.
“The paint is a little more stubborn than we expected it to be,” says Carol Johnson, spokeswoman for the National Park Service.
Workers can’t break out brillo pads and start scrubbing on Honest Abe’s statue. The 91-ton historic icon is made of white Georgia marble that U.S. Park Service conservationists will treat with great care.
“We don’t want to start with something casuistic, we’re trying to be as gentle as possible with this,” says Johnson.
Officials are using pressure washers Wednesday to remove a water-based gel cleanser that’s been allowed to soak on the paint stains for at least 24 hours.
“It’s going to take several days, several applications and perhaps several products,” Johnson says.
A Park Service architectural preservationist is working with and consulting with the National Cathedral and Smithsonian Institution in the effort to appropriately clean other locations vandalized with paint, Johnson says.