Anne-Marie Desiderio was walking with friends in Renton’s Gene Coulon Park last week when they spotted two turtles sunning on a log in the water. The friends stopped to look at the pair, which they noticed had something drawn on their shells.
She was disturbed by what she saw: Large white swastikas appeared to have been spray-painted on both turtles.
“I was absolutely horrified and my eyes actually got teary,” said Desiderio, who lives in Renton.
Visitors of the waterfront park have reported seeing the tagged turtles over the past month. Some reported the sightings to Renton police, who earlier this week said they’re aware and have tried to capture the turtles, but “so far they’ve evaded apprehension.”
City officials believe the reptiles were pets that were released, but the intent and who painted them is unknown. The swastika is associated with Nazis, but some pointed out that the emblem was inverted. The symbol, in both directions, was used in other cultures for thousands of years before Adolf Hitler co-opted it during the Nazi era.
But residents, activists and anti-hate organizations say the incident is troubling, no matter the reason. A “Rally Against Hate” is planned for Saturday afternoon at the park in response.
“While it’s hard to know the intention or what the perpetrator had in mind, it seems pretty clear to us what the symbol means,” said Miri Cypers, the regional director for the Anti-Defamation League. “I think it’s a really sad and unfortunate act. Unfortunately, anti-Semitic vandalism is becoming all too common in this climate.”
The city is working with wildlife agencies to figure out a way to find the turtles and remove the paint from their shells, said Renton Parks and Trails Director Cailin Hunsaker. Hunsaker has also reached out to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to ensure that the animals aren’t harmed if they are caught and washed.
“It appears the animals are feeling fine, but at the same time we don’t know much the paint might be compromising their health,” she said.
Renton residents have planned a rally at the park at 1 p.m. Saturday to “raise awareness that this is not acceptable in our community,” said organizer Mical DeGraaff.
Police are not actively investigating the painting of and release of the turtles, said Cmdr. David Leibman. Painting turtles wouldn’t fall under the state law for cruelty to animals, unless it caused them harm, he added.
However, if park visitors spot the turtles, they should call the non-emergency Police Department line: 425-235-2121.