Graffiti has again lifted its dirty head in Lehigh Acres with the arrests of at least eight youths who are accused of vandalizing buildings in the community over the past month.
Capt. John Haberman, commander of the Bravo District in Lehigh of the Lee County Sheriff's Office, said that three arrests were made last week of three males who have been charged with criminal mischief of painting graffiti with property damage of $1,000 in value or more.
In addition the three suspects were charged with burglary.
The Lee County Sheriff's Office released security footage of tape recordings to help identify three males responsible for breaking into a church and spraying paint graffiti on the church's interior walls.
The pastor at St. Raphael's Church said that between 8 p.m. on May 25 and 2:10 p.m. on May 26, someone or more than one got into the church through an unlocked room at the rectory and sprayed painted graffiti on the restroom walls and doors.
According to the Sheriff's Office, the vandals also made their way to the parking lot and sprayed painted a 2000 Cadillac that had been donated to the church with a total damage estimated at $1,000.
Haberman has said at recent public gatherings that graffiti has become somewhat of a problem again in Lehigh Acres.
He said that residential burglaries and graffiti were two crimes that his deputies were dealing with the most.
Three arrests were made in the graffiti case at St. Raphael's Church on Lee Blvd., across from the Walmart.
Arrested and charged on June 5 were Tyler Yates, 16, of 2512 W. 15th St., Lehigh, James Willis, 14, with an unknown address, and Shawn Elswick, 15, of 2815 W. 7th St., Lehigh.
The arrests came during the early morning hours of June 5 while sheriff's deputies were patrolling the Lee Blvd. business corridor. They encountered thee juveniles acting suspiciously in the area of Hazelwood Ave.
During the encounter, the deputy noticed one of the juveniles had florescent green paint on his arm.
According to the Sheriff's Office, the deputy realized that the teens may have been involved in recent vandalism of painting graffiti to area businesses.
They were detained and during interview, information was obtained that linked the three juveniles to the recent vandalism at St. Raphael's Church as well as recent incidents at Beef O'Brady's and Max'D Out Fitness.
Haberman said the suspects who had been turned over to juvenile authorities were processed and released and were arrested again this past Thursday.
"I hope these arrests send a message. We are coming after those who commit this crime of painting graffiti and bringing about vandalism," Haberman said over the weekend.
When the original news story was released about the graffiti at St. Raphael's Church, news stations and the media carried the video from hidden cameras showing the youths inside the church.
The public was asked to help by calling Crimestoppers to help find the culprits, Haberman said.
He urged Lehigh Acres residents to call the Sheriff's office if they see graffiti anywhere in Lehigh.
"We want to hear from the public. They should tell us the location and our deputies will begin an investigation. The graffiti will be painted over," he said.
In the past, graffiti has been a serious problem in the community with graffiti appearing on the exterior of buildings and on bridges across canals.
"If kids in Lehigh are going to continue to commit these crimes, they are going to be arrested and held responsible," he said.