The Austin Fire Department recently released a surveillance video that shows a man setting fire to a grackle statue that once stood outside Austin City Hall. Investigators say that they know the identity of the man, whom they did not name; however, they now need to locate him.
One woman who works in the downtown Austin area had the following to say in regards to the incident:
“I just kind of felt sick to my stomach and immediately got really sad. It hadn’t been there that long, and I just enjoyed seeing it every day. It just seemed very Austin. I felt really bad for the artist. It just seemed beyond pointless, kind of cruel you know.”
The statue was a piece of artwork that had been titled Ganador, which is a Spanish word for “winner.” The artist, Christy Stallop, posted the following on her official Twitter page in regards to the incident:
“I’m heartbroken. Ganador is in ashes. I don’t know any of the details as it is an ongoing investigation.”
Stallop notes on her official website that she created the piece through the city’s TEMPO program, which is defined by Austin as follows:
“TEMPO allows artists to explore a range of themes suitable for outdoor environments and provides the opportunity for innovative, thought-provoking artwork that effects the way people experience their environment.”
The statue had been moved to City Hall just a couple of months ago in order to make it part of the People’s Gallery, which is part of the Art in Public Places program.
The city’s Director of Economic Development had the following to say:
“The People’s Gallery is a way for our local artists in the Austin community to exhibit their artwork in City Hall. Overall, we think that arts are inherent to the economic vitality of our community. Art brings people joy. It brings people a way to reflect on our community as it’s seen through art. Ganador did catch some folks off guard, but it does bring a smile to your face, something that’s kind of joyous and different in the City Hall plaza.”
Investigators say that the suspect involved in the incident is believed to be between the ages of 55 and 70 years old. In the surveillance video, he is seen wearing a long-sleeved top that is either white or gray in color, as well as dark pants, and he also has a full head of white hair.
The fire was fully extinguished; however, the statue itself was completely destroyed, with damages estimated to be a total of $5,000.
Those with any information regarding the incident are asked to contact the Austin Fire Department’s Arson Investigations unit.
Texas’s penal code defines arson as the following:
“A person commits an arson offense if the person starts a fire, regardless of whether the fire continues after ignition, or causes an explosion with intent to destroy or damage property.”
The arson cases involved with property in the state of Texas include the following:
*Any structure located on open land
Prosecutors generally use some of the following motives for why individuals commit arson offenses:
*Starting a fire for various insurance purposes or other types of security interests
*Starting a fire as a hate crime
*Starting a fire out of recklessness
Any time that there is an arson case in the state of Texas, the Texas Fire Marshall will lead an investigation alongside prosecutors in order to not only determine the cause of the arson, but also track down the suspect responsible for the crime as well. The Marshall uses their own forensic laboratory and trained dogs in order to find evidence and form a case against the party responsible.
Texas state law defines arson as being a second degree felony that is punishable by a total of two to 20 years in state prison. Additionally, if the arson involves a church or if someone is injured or killed, the charges are upgraded to a first degree felony. As a result, the responsible party will run the risk of being sentenced to life in prison.
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