LAFAYETTE — A Lafayette man is accused of hanging models of exploding planes on beams from the World Trade Center in a downtown park early Wednesday — the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Police arrested 35-year-old Salvador Perez on Wednesday afternoon on counts of criminal trespassing and criminal damage to a historic building or landmark, Cpl. Paul Mouton said.
Lafayette’s 9/11 Monument in Parc Sans Souci was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2002, one year after more than 3,000 Americans died in New York, Arlington, Va., and in a Pennsylvania field.
The monument was constructed with two 13-foot I-beams taken from the wreckage the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. The base surrounding the monument has a pentagon shape and contains limestone from the debris at the Pentagon.
On Wednesday morning, seven Lafayette firefighters gathered around the monument, unaware that hours earlier the model planes were hanging from the heat-twisted twin beams.
“It’s a disgrace to the men and women who died that day,” said Grant Venable, who was 16 when the attacks occurred.
“That’s the reason I became a firefighter.”
A tattoo on his right shoulder honors the 343 firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 attack.
Venable was one of a group of firefighters who had just finished a memorial stair-climbing event at the downtown Chase Towers and had walked to the monument to take pictures of it.
Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit called the incident a defacement that dishonored New York firefighters and other emergency responders who were killed.
“This incident will not overshadow our remembrance and honoring of Sept. 11, 2001, 12 years ago,” Benoit said.
Baton Rouge native Navy Lt. Michael Scott Lamana, a briefer for the chief of naval operations, died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, one of five Louisiana residents killed that day in the terrorist attacks.
Leo Russell Keene III, of Sulphur, died in the South Tower of the World Trade Center; Louis Calvin Williams III, of Mandeville, died in the World Trade Center; and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Wayne Yokum, of Lake Charles, died at the Pentagon.
Air Force (Ret.) Lt. Col. Robert Hymel, of Norco, also died in the attack on the Pentagon. Hymel, an analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, was 55.
Mouton declined to comment on the motive behind hanging the model planes on the monument’s steel beams or to speculate on the intended message.
Marjorie Esman, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union in New Orleans, said Perez had a right to express himself, but within limits.
“He has a First Amendment right to his opinions,” she said. “He does not have the right, in any way, to change the appearance of public property.”
Mouton said police had no comment on a detail etched on one model’s tail section — “NWO” wrapped in a circle.
One Lafayette news outlet, television station KATC, speculated the letters stood for New World Order.
KATC also ran a photo on its website, reportedly taken by someone who does not work for the station, that shows a cutout of former President George W. Bush. The photo, snapped before the sun rose, shows Bush with cash in one hand and what appears to be a detonator in the other.
Mouton would not say how police identified Perez, including whether the video cameras mounted in numerous places downtown played a part.
According to the arrest affidavit, Perez cooperated when police found him.
The document also stated Perez has no prior convictions.
However, Perez was charged in June by the Lafayette Parish District Attorney’s Office with one count of theft under $500, allegedly for stealing from a Lowe’s store in March, according to 15th Judicial District Court records.