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Vandals splatter Old Mission Santa Barbara with red paint, misspell 'genocide' message

Vandals splatter Old Mission Santa Barbara with red paint, misspell 'genocide' message
German tourist Lars Urbanschulze takes photos of vandalism at the Old Mission Santa Barbara on Oct. 10. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Vandals caused more than $25,000 in damage to the Old Mission Santa Barbara overnight, scrawling “rape” on several pillars and misspelling the word “genocide” with red paint on the stone front of the historic building.

At least one vandal broke a small window and splattered red paint on the front door and the walkway leading up to the church. The person also wrote “never forget the lives + land stolen” in red paint on the white wall of another building where some of the nearly 30 Franciscan friars that live on the property sleep, according to police and mission officials.

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“It’s not the happiest way to start the day,” said Monica Orozco, the mission’s executive director. “It’s disappointing and upsetting. My first thought is always for the friars who live here because it’s their home. Imagine having your home vandalized. It’s a real invasion of your life and can make you feel unsafe.”

A passerby reported the felony vandalism to Santa Barbara police about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. Some of the lettering on the graffiti is at least 3 feet tall, making it difficult to miss, police spokesman Anthony Wagner said.

The mission in Santa Barbara was established in 1786 and was the 10th of 21 California missions founded by the Spanish Franciscans. The 15-acre property, which is listed on the national registry of historic places, includes a church with an active parish of several hundred families, a museum, a cemetery, a mausoleum and gardens.

Authorities suspect that the vandal’s actions were done in protest of the Spanish conquistadors’ treatment of Native Americans. The incident also could be linked to protests surrounding the celebration of Columbus Day, which was Monday, according to investigators.

Several cities in California, including Los Angeles and Berkeley, have voted to celebrate the occasion as Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day in recent years.

Detectives are processing evidence from the scene, and investigators will review surveillance video from cameras set up around the property, authorities said.

“People are allowed to have their opinions, but it doesn’t mean you can deface property,” Wagner said.

The historic property also has become a cultural landmark for Santa Barbara. Families often can be found lounging on blankets with picnics on the front lawn of the property. Tourists spend hours walking through the museum and the church with its Colonial-era art and sculptures. The church also has been the backdrop of numerous couples’ engagement photos and has hosted many weddings over the years.

Tourists who arrived Wednesday morning to visit the property were met with crews affixing sheets of paper over the graffiti.

“It’s a historic landmark and a real cultural touchstone for people in our community,” Orozco said. “People come from all over the world to see it.”

Orozco said she hopes to have the paint cleaned up before a wedding that’s scheduled at the church on Saturday, but the process could be tricky given the porous stone facade on the building. Specialized crews likely will have to be hired so the building isn’t damaged further, she said.

“We’ll do what we can to clean up and move forward,” Orozco said. “I feel sad for the people who thought they needed to do this. There must be a lot of anger there. We will pray for them.”

This isn’t the first time the mission has been the target of vandalism.

A statue of St. Junipero Serra that for years had stood at the foot of a staircase leading into the mission had to be removed last year after someone poured red paint over the sculpture and cut off its head. An investigation did not lead to any arrests in that incident.

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1:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the mission and comments from its executive director.

This article was originally published at 9:40 a.m.

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