HIGHLAND PARK — A 54-year-old borough man has been arrested in connection with the vandalism of a mural honoring refugees, less than two days after it was completed.

Thomas Santo, of Highland Park, was charged with fourth-degree bias intimidation.

He also faces criminal mischief for the actual physical defacement of the "Home is Where We Make It" mural at 75 Raritan Avenue.

On the morning of April 29, Santo first spray painted “USA” across the face of a woman wearing a hijab, Highland Park Police Chief Rick Abrams announced.

Highland Park mural graffiti (Highland Park Police) anti Muslim graffiti
Highland Park mural graffiti (Highland Park Police)

Santo returned later that same day to vandalize it again, this time with two Stars of David across the same woman’s face, Abrams said.

There was a wide show of support at an interfaith vigil on Monday for the mural, commissioned by The Shelter Project.

“Feeling incredibly humbled by last night's community gathering. Neighbors from all corners of Highland Park and allies from around Middlesex County came together to make the event happen, and to encourage deep listening and accountability,” a Facebook post said by coLAB Arts, the artist collective that helped support the piece, on Tuesday.

“Highland Park prides itself on its diversity and acceptance of all, and this act struck at the heart of what we stand for. The Highland Park Police Department is resolute in its condemnation of this vandalism and all acts of bias and hatred. We will continue to work with our community and borough partners to ensure the safety of all,” Abrams said in a written statement on Thursday.

He also thanked borough police officers for “the diligent work they put in to solve this so quickly, and a special thank you to our community partners and business owners that assisted us in this investigation.”

Anyone with information can call Detective Sergeant Jason Culver or Detective Gaetano Palumbo of the Highland Park Police Department at 732-572-3800 or send an email Detectives@hpboro.com.

Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at erin.vogt@townsquaremedia.com

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