Suspected vandal of La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs indicted in federal court

Suspected vandal of La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs indicted in federal court

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Roughly two years after someone spray-painted a sacred and protected monument southwest of Santa Fe, a suspect is now indicted in federal court.

“It is a horrible, horrible act of disrespect and cruelty and we were all pretty horrified by it,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, northern conservation director of New Mexico Wild—a state-based non-profit focused on water, wildlife, and public lands protection.

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In 2022, two separate vandalism incidents caught the attention of the general public and surrounding pueblos when the La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs south of Santa Fe were spray painted. “It was reported to us via the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that this had occurred so once that happened for us here at Tesuque first and foremost was pain and sorrow and tears,” said Mark Mitchell, former governor of the Pueblo of Tesuque.

The site is very much active for local pueblos like Tesuque: “Tesuque maintains its ties to the Petroglyphs through active pilgrimages, stories, songs, and prayers,” Mitchell said, “They’re irreplaceable once damaged, ah, how can anybody go back out there and replace, you can’t.”

“These are not places that were used once upon a time but they’re places that are currently used for spiritual practices and I think a lot of the public doesn’t understand that,” VeneKlasen said, “It’s the equivalent of vandalizing the cathedral in downtown Santa Fe, for example.”

For years, there was no whisper of who did this; the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and New Mexico Wild each even offered a $5,000 reward for information on the vandal.

But now, just unsealed Wednesday, a federal court is indicting one Jesse Foster for defacing the site in one of the incidents from October. The news is welcome to those interested in preserving the sacred site.

“Relief, hope, and reconciliation is what we’re thinking. It is Tesuque’s hope that the defendant understands that to harm petroglyphs is to harm an entire people,” Mitchell said, “It is our hope the court’s action will also educate the public and serve as a caution against any future desecrations to the sacred landscape.”

“It is a hate crime that there should be zero tolerance for and the person that did this should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” VeneKlasen said.

Foster faces three counts of damage to archaeological resources over five hundred dollars. He pleaded not guilty and has been released pending trial.