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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – On this Columbus Day, St. Louis Police were looking for vandals who defaced a historic statue of Christopher Columbus. They painted the statue and marble base bright red.

The statue is more than 130 years old.  It’s been fixture in Tower Grove Park near the entrance off of South Grand.  Whether you care for Columbus, the statue is seen as a celebration of Italian-American heritage in St. Louis.

People woke up to find the statue coated in red paint, Saturday.

Photos posted on social media have sparked outrage.

Park officials hired a cleanup crew to power-wash most of the paint away in time for the Federation of Italian-American Organizations’ annual wreath-laying ceremony this morning.

Still, red paint dots the statue and much of the base.

Italian-American leaders consider it a slap to their heritage.

People who live nearby don’t like it either.

“Defacing a public monument is not the way to go.  There are better more constructive ways to show your displeasure,” said Maggie Sullivan, a college student who’s lived near the park her entire life.

“I don’t condone vandalism,” said Dino Michalopoulos, who also lives nearby.  “I think painting it crosses the line into vandalism.  I think people could have marched or been vocal.  There could have been a gathering of some sort…there’s a lot of backlash towards him in the native communities.”

In recent years, the great explorer credited with discovering the Americas has also become known for brutal treatment of native islanders in Hispaniola, the present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic.

But the Italian-born Columbus’s contributions are still celebrated in St. Louis, especially in the Italian-American hub, “The Hill” neighborhood.  They understand the controversy but not the vandalism.

“Whether you feel strongly for him or against him I think there are more productive ways to handle that situation,” Michalopoulos said.

“If you want people to be aware of that movement and try to get it to have some legitimacy, I think you need to have rallies or more informative protest methods than just defacing the statue,” Sullivan said.

This has happened in other cities in the past.  It’s happened in Tower Grove Park in the past as well, nearby residents said.

This occurred between 1:00-8:00 Saturday morning, police said.  If you have any information, call St. Louis Police.