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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Memorial on 34th Street Wall vandalized with swastika, SS symbols

34th Street Wall Vandalism

Three Gainesville Police officers responded to the 34th Street Wall after one or more people spray painted a swastika on its memorial, which honors five students murdered in 1990. “It is sick,” a responding GPD officer said.

At first, Adam Tritt said he never planned to memorialize the murder of five students in the Fall of 1990.

“There were little memorials all over town — flowers here, candles there, and we figured we’d put a memorial in one spot that was easy to get to, that was central, and that was the whole idea,” he said.

When he decided to paint a mural on the 34th Street Wall, Tritt said he never expected it to last.

“I was flabbergasted when it was there a year later,” he said. “I was dumbfounded when they got actual permission to put a frame around it.”

On April 30, at least one unidentified person marked the memorial with a white swastika within an existing red heart. A pair of white SS bolts were sprayed next to the heart.

The memorial honors Sonja Larson, Christina Powell, Christa Hoyt, Manuel Taboada and Tracy Paules, all of whom Danny Rolling killed in August 1990.

Gainesville Police spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said GPD receives a few calls about the wall each year.

Painting the wall, he said, is still considered illegal, but the department has an unspoken rule to not prosecute people for doing so.

“Even if they were painting a picture of sunshine and rainbows it would still be an act of criminal mischief if we followed the absolute letter of the Florida law and, over the past, law enforcement agencies have chosen to let that wall serve as a place for artists and for people to display graffiti,” he said.

Police are not allowed to paint the wall, even to cover especially offensive vandalism, Tobias said.

As of press time, the symbols were covered in a fresh coat of black paint. It is unclear who is responsible for maintaining the memorial.

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The recent vandalism, Tobias said, is an insult to the city.

“For somebody to want to do something that egregious in a public space is just embarrassing,” he said.

Tritt said he never met the students Rollings murdered, but he still decided to create the memorial with his friend Paul Chase.

“We were poor; we were broke,” Tritt said. “We took one scooter to Wal-Mart, and we got the gallons of paint that were left over because they were mixed badly and they couldn’t sell them.”

The students’ families planted five trees in the nearby median, each adorned with a student’s name, for the 10th anniversary of their murders.

Tritt said most people have no idea why the memorial exists, and those who do may still vandalize it.

“There’s assholes everywhere,” he said.

Follow Sara on Twitter: @saradmarino

Email: smarino@alligator.org

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