The Tucson Police Department has a suspect in custody for the recent vandalism of Saguaro National Park East.
A 16-year-old boy is alleged to have defaced 41 objects including 11 saguaros in mid-May by spray painting 'S-O-M-A' on them.
The chemicals can harm the saguaro's delicate skin. The parts that are covered with paint will not be able to feed on sunlight.
“The tissue underneath the spray paint would be damaged," said Scott Stonum with the Saguaro National Park. "Several layers of the skin could die, and the cactus would ultimately scar over as a result of that tissue dying.”
Rangers at the park are trying to remove the paint without damaging the sensitive outer layer of the saguaros.
The teen faces two counts of felony vandalism, but more charges could be added.
He also admitted to most of the 140 other cases where 'S-O-M-A' was spray painted throughout the city.
Tucson Police said the boy told them the letters are an abbreviation for 'Society of Mexican Americans'. The Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission said the name is linked to a gang in Somerton, Ariz.