A Garden Grove man has been charged with vandalizing a Santa Ana mural depicting predominantly Mexican American U.S. service members — some of who fought in campaigns dating back to World War I.
Eric Alan Cabrera, 20, has been charged with two counts of felony vandalism after he was arrested in Anaheim for unrelated charges, according to the Orange County prosecutors. If convicted, Cabrera faces more than seven years in prison.
In March, Cabrera allegedly tagged graffiti on the exterior wall of La Chiquita Market on Washington Avenue, which hosts a mural called "Among Heroes." The mural displays nearly 200 portraits of mostly Latino and Latina U.S. veterans — the majority of whom served during World War II.
Cabrera, who authorities say is a member of the Lopers gang, was also charged with a gang enhancement.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said at a news conference Tuesday that the graffiti wasn't just an act of vandalism. It also "disrespected heroes who made Santa Ana and Orange County proud."
Juan Villegas, a veteran and Santa Ana councilman, called the vandalism to a "crime against our culture. It's a crime against our heritage."
The mural was painted over the course of five years and became an artistic centerpiece in the Logan neighborhood — a longtime Latino neighborhood in Santa Ana that dates back to the late-1800s.
Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin told the media that surveillance video of the actual vandalism and of Cabrera's license plate helped them track down the suspect. Cabrera was arrested by another agency for a separate crime. Later, Cabrera confessed to the mural's vandalism, Valentin said.
Samuel Romero, a military veteran who was born and raised in the Logan neighborhood, said the mural isn't just art for people like him. The 83-year-old pointed to the faces that make up the mural.
"Here. What you see here are my neighbors," he said. A younger version of Romero in his Marine garb is also part of the mural. He said many in the neighborhood have served in the military.
"I have two brothers-in-law who aren't up here because there isn't enough space," he said.
The vandalism angered Romero, who began to name off all the men he knew personally in the mural.
"There is Luciano," he said of a man smoking a pipe. He was a friend.
The mural, originally painted by artist Carlos Aguilar, is being restored after the community raised more than $11,000.
Jose Andrade, president of the Logan Neighborhood Assn., said his heart sank when he first saw the blue and white scrawling on the wall. It's personal for him. He pointed to his father's portrait — a Marine who smiled with his eyes. Joe Andrade survived the war, he said.
"He didn't survive the alcohol. It just caught up to him," Andrade said and looked at his father's portrait. "He was 58… Years back, he died on Memorial Day."