Mystery Chinese woman defaces Washington monuments

Cathedral, Lincoln Memorial among targets of accused who refuses to tell court her details

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 July, 2013, 10:28am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 August, 2013, 2:21am

A Chinese woman charged with defacing the Washington National Cathedral has been linked to at least four other incidents of vandalism at US landmarks, including at the Lincoln Memorial, according to prosecutors and court documents.

Tian Jiamei, 58, appeared alongside a Putonghua translator in Superior Court, where a judge ordered her held pending a hearing later this week. Tian was arrested on Monday at the cathedral, where she allegedly used green paint to deface an organ and decorative woodwork in two separate chapels.

The cathedral has said the damage to its chapels, including to a gilded wood altarpiece, will cost thousands of dollars to fix.

Authorities believe the green paint vandalism was part of a pattern. Green paint was discovered splattered on the Lincoln Memorial on Friday morning, and symbols were later found painted in green on a statue outside the Smithsonian headquarters on the National Mall.

The woman, who has a Chinese passport, arrived in Washington a few days ago and was travelling on an expired visa. Police said she had no fixed address but had told officers that she lived in Los Angeles. She refused to give her phone number, e-mail address or home address, police said, and the language barrier complicated initial efforts to interview her.

Prosecutors asked the judge to keep Tian locked up, calling her a flight risk and a danger to the community. Assistant US Attorney Kevin Chambers said there was no way to guarantee her presence at future court appearances without jailing her.

"While that danger to the community is not violent, it is nonetheless serious," he said.

Tian was arrested inside the cathedral's Children's Chapel on Monday afternoon, just after the still-wet green paint was discovered. When a police officer approached her, she walked away and placed a soft-drink can with green paint inside one of three bags sitting on chairs in the chapel. She also had green paint on her clothing, shoes and body. She was wearing a multicoloured sock on her right arm, and a similar sock was found in a rubbish bin in a bathroom at the cathedral on top of a can of green paint.

Tian is also suspected of vandalising a statue of Martin Luther on Thomas Circle and a nearby church.

Police said Tian has potential "mental health issues" and it's still not clear what inspired the vandalism.

Tan's lawyer argued that her client could be dealt with by immigration authorities instead of going to jail, but Chambers disagreed. "We have her here now," he said. "We want her to answer for these alleged offences."