National Park Service officials, church leaders and others will meet next week to discuss security issues at San Antonio’s historic missions following two recent incidents of vandalism at Mission Concepción and Mission San Juan.
Meanwhile, National Park Service officials are asking for the public’s help for tips to help identify those responsible for vandalism at the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Ethel Rios, a longtime parishioner and the bookkeeper of the Mission Concepción Convento, arrived at the mission on March 14 to find what appeared to be ashes at the entry door. Then she saw something worse: Someone had carved the words “Pancho Villa,” “Ignacio Zaragoza Mexico” and “March 12, 2022” on the convento’s entry door. Though someone had attempted to break into the church, they were unsuccessful.
“Thank God, there was nothing else in the church” that was damaged, she said.
National Park Service officials said someone also broke into Mission San Juan’s church around the same time and entered an empty room. Though there was no damage done inside, the door and door jamb were damaged.
National Park Service officials believe both incidents occurred between March 12 and March 17.
Rios said she thinks both incidents occurred the same night and involved the same person or people.
“They know that there’s things that they can steal, and they know that there’s things that they can destroy,” she said. “Speaking for myself and Mission Concepción, it’s a target because there’s no cameras, there’s no alarms outside or anything to deter these people from trying to do things like that.”
Though the door vandalized at Mission San Juan was not an original door, Alex Heyer, chief law enforcement ranger for the National Park Service, said plans for repairs to the door of the convento at Mission Concepción and at the San Juan church remain unclear.
“There was extensive damage,” said Heyer. “I don’t have estimates on costs yet [on how much] it’s going to take to repair, but we do work with carpenters that will come in and specialize in historic preservation and they will do the work to repair those doors.”
This is not the first report of vandalism at the historic missions. In 2018, three vandals defaced Mission San José and Mission San Juan with politically motivated graffiti. Because the vandalism occurred on federal property, three San Antonians were indicted in federal court and eventually sentenced to probation and ordered to pay restitution and perform community service.
Heyer said that since the 2018 incident, security measures have been adjusted to patrol the missions. Bexar County constables and San Antonio Police Department officers patrol the area.
Heyer said the investigation is ongoing, but would not discuss potential leads. He said the National Park Service is working with SAPD, which is investigating the Mission San Juan damage.
Heyer confirmed there are security cameras in the Missions National Historical Park, but would not comment on any information gathered from them. According to Rios, the camera near Mission Concepción faces the parking lot and not the church’s doors.
Anyone with information about the incidents can call or text the Investigative Services Branch tip line at 888-653-0009, or via web at go.nps.gov/SubmitATip, or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rios said she hopes the March 31 meeting set to discuss what missions officials called “the big security issue” in an email will result in improved security measures “sooner than later.”
“Cameras are going to have to be placed somewhere on the walls. Holes are going to have to be made,” Rios said.
Ultimately, any changes to the historic buildings will need to be approved by the Texas Historical Commission and other parties, she said.