Memorial vandal suspect jailed

A man accused of desecrating the veterans memorial in Merced County Courthouse Park has been taken into custody.

Cameron Ridgway, 18, was arrested by law enforcement in Norwalk on Dec. 3. He was extradited from Los Angeles County and booked at the Merced County Jail on suspicion of vandalism Tuesday, according to Detective Allen Adrian of the Merced Police Department.

Police believe Ridgway scrawled a graffiti message on the memorial about Nov. 13, and police made a report of the damage Nov. 16. The graffiti was written on the World War I memorial with a black paint marker, Adrian said. The graffiti message was about 8 inches long and 5 inches tall.

Adrian said volunteers with the Merced Community Action Network exhaustively tried to remove the marks — but a large black stain remains. Replacing the granite stone would cost $4,300, according to an estimate from Merced's parks and recreation department.

"They might be able to sand it out, but it might not be able to be restored to its original state," Adrian said. "You still see a pretty distinct shadow."

Veterans and members of the community were infuriated that someone would vandalize a memorial dedicated to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. "I thought it was very disturbing," Adrian said.

Adrian said Ridgway was a transient living in Merced, although he grew up in Fullerton.

Police say the vandalism at the memorial isn't Ridgway's first run-in with the law. In September, a Merced police officer spotted him trespassing at Merced High School. Adrian said the officer found Ridgway in possession of graffiti tools.

Ridgway also had a graffiti moniker scrawled on his hand, and the officer at Merced High School photographed it. That moniker was similar to the one found on the veteran's memorial, Adrian said.

In addition, Fullerton police have had similar run-ins with Ridgway, and officers in that city obtained a book of graffiti drawings belonging to him, Adrian said. Adrian said the graffiti in Southern California also matched the graffiti on the veterans memorial in Merced.

Law enforcement in Norwalk arrested Ridgway after Merced police issued a warrant for his arrest Dec. 1.