By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Federal officials have publicly identified a woman suspected of graffiti vandalism in at least eight national parks across the West, including Yosemite and Death Valley in California, and credit social media for helping pinpoint the alleged culprit.
Casey Nocket of New York state has not been arrested or charged but was confirmed on Thursday as "the major suspect" in an investigation of one of the most widespread acts of serial vandalism documented in the National Park System.
The case was brought to light in a series of photos obtained and posted by the Internet blog Modern Hiker and furnished to the National Park Service picturing numerous graffiti drawings, all signed "Creepytings" and dated 2014.
One shows a woman the blog identified as Nocket putting the finishing touches on an acrylic drawing of a cigarette-smoking figure scrawled on a canyon wall at Utah's Canyonlands National Park in June.
Others show drawings of a woman with blue hair on a ledge overlooking Oregon's Crater Lake and a bald man with a snake protruding from his mouth on a trailside rock in California's Yosemite National Park.
The Park Service said initially it was investigating such vandalism in at least 10 Western national parks.
But agency spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said on Thursday that Nocket had been tied as a suspect to graffiti in eight parks - Yosemite, Death Valley and Joshua Tree in California; Crater Lake in Oregon; Zion and Canyonlands in Utah; and Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado National Monument in Colorado.
Although instant gratification afforded by social media exposure was cited in a New York Times report last year for a rise in graffiti defacings on public lands, Picavet said social media in this case played a key role in the investigation.
The Modern Hiker said its photos were gathered earlier this month by screen shots taken of the suspect's Instagram and Tumblr accounts, which have since been set to "Private."
Park Service investigators also received numerous photos and other information from members of the public outraged over the defacings, Picavet said.
Vandalism is a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, although prosecutors could decide to bring more serious charges.
"This is an open investigation," Picavet said.
Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb said vandalism occurred there occasionally but was "not common." She added: "As far as a widespread case like this, it's the first one I'm aware of."
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Cooney)