Thurston County sheriff's deputies have identified a man suspected of defacing a mural painted in honor of a fallen soldier in Rainier. He will be cited with two counts of malicious mischief, according to the sheriff's office.
Community members organized to paint the mural honoring Rainier native Sgt. Justin Norton in 2011. The mural depicting Norton is painted on a train trestle at the edge of town.
Norton was just 21 when he was killed in action by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq on June 24, 2006.
On Tuesday, a vandal painted the words "war criminal" over Norton's mural in red lettering. The mural was also struck by vandalism on Monday, but the damage was repaired by one of the artists soon thereafter.
Thurston County Sheriff's Sgt. Ray Brady said that initially, deputies did not think they could prosecute the case criminally, because they were unaware whether Tacoma Rail had given permission for the mural. However, deputies recently learned Tacoma Rail has given permission for the mural, so the vandalism is now classified as a crime, Brady said.
A witness who saw the vandal spray-painting over the mural on Tuesday snapped a photo of the suspect's license plate number as he fled, Brady said. Deputies located a family member of the suspect who said the man lives in the Yelm or Rainier area.
However, deputies have been unable to locate him, Brady said. The suspect will be cited for two counts of misdemeanor malicious mischief, Brady said.
Brady said the entire Rainier community is outraged that someone would deface a mural to a fallen soldier.
"Our focus at this point is trying to locate this guy," Brady said. "It's definitely a high-priority case."
As of Friday, artists were in the midst of repainting the mural and fixing the damages.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445; email@example.com