Social media helps catch Hanging Lake vandal

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Graffiti found in 2017 up and down the Hanging Lake Trail covering rocks, trees and trail infrastructure.
Courtesy Photo

On April 13, 2017, a U.S. Forest Service volunteer discovered the word “Blest” with an arrow spray-painted on numerous rocks, trees and other sites along the Hanging Lake Trail.

The Forest Service asked for tips, and social media helped investigators discover the likely perpetrator, leading to the arrest, conviction and sentencing of 27-year-old Kyle Garcia last year.

The “Blest” graffiti was one of many instances of vandalism, misuse and overuse of the Hanging Lake Trail around 2017 that prompted calls for stricter management of the site.

The abuse of Hanging Lake use was frequently blamed on social media attracting more and more visitors to the treasured site on the heavily traveled Interstate 70 corridor.

But in the “Blest” case scenario, social media proved to be a boon.

After discovering the graffiti, the Forest Service posted pictures on their social media feeds and the story was shared numerous times.

Ultimately, it was the tips from people online that led investigators to pictures Garcia posted on his social media, according to court documents.

Garcia’s posts of the April 10, 2017, visit to Hanging Lake included pictures of him on the trail with a woman. There also was a picture of someone with a distinctive star tattoo on his left hand spray-painting a bridge along the trail.

Investigators were able to track down the woman, who confirmed that Garcia was at the lake and tagged various points along the trail.

“I think with the social media network, people put clues together,” said Roger Poirier, acting public affairs officer for the White River National Forest. “Forest Service and law enforcement followed those clues, and it led to the man responsible for vandalizing the trail,” he said.

Federal agents executed a search warrant for Garcia’s Denver home April 28, 2017, and found examples of the “Blest” tag matching the graffiti, as well as a picture with the star tattoo on Garcia’s hand.

“It’s unique, in that sometimes we look at social media bringing people to places, or bringing too many people to places. In this case, it helped provide information that led to identifying the person,” Poirier said.

A grand jury handed down an indictment in January 2019, and Garcia pleaded guilty in July.

In November 2019, a federal judge in Denver sentenced Garcia to 2 months in prison and three years supervised release for the graffiti.

Judge Marcia Krieger also sentenced Garcia to 200 hours of community service, which will include cleaning up graffiti, teaching art, and other “socially responsible activities using his artistic talents,” according to court transcripts.

Garcia also will have to pay $4,525 to cover the cost of repairing the vandalism.

“Blest” was the tag Garcia used as an artist, according to a statement his public defender submitted to the court prior to sentencing.

Garcia was struggling with several mental health issues and a family loss, but the “tagging convictions are at the intersection of his creative, artistic side and his lack of impulse control,” his attorney wrote.

His prison sentence is being served concurrently with Colorado convictions for unrelated crimes.

Poirier says the Garcia graffiti case shows how much people value natural resources, and want to protect them.

“There are so many ways that the public can help us steward these treasured landscapes, and one of those ways is staying aware and reporting violations when people see something,” Poirier said.

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