By Shereen Siewert

Police have identified the 18-year-old man accused of spray painting symbols and vulgarities on private and public property in an apparent vandalism spree as Matthew Peterson, of Merrill.

Peterson appeared Monday in Lincoln County Circuit Court, where he faces 24 criminal charges including 14 counts of criminal damage to property. An additional 10 counts of bail jumping were filed, connected to a case that concluded in August that resulted in a deferred sentencing agreement.

Police say the incidents that prompted Monday’s charges began in January when several young adults targeted both private and public property by spray painting symbols and vulgarities.

In total, 17 separate cases were investigated. The damage began in the town of Pine River and continued to Council Grounds State Park occurring on multiple occasions.

The charges sought include some damage that was done to the area in Merrill known as the River Bend Trail, police said. Additional damage on the trail which includes broken lights is still considered an open case and Merrill officers are seeking any additional leads.

An investigator with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department began investigating the case in September and soon developed leads as to the suspects. Investigators conducted interviews, viewed surveillance cameras and obtained confessions which led to numerous criminal charges which will be filed with the Lincoln County District Attorney.

Investigators with the Merrill Police Department developed early leads in the incidents and assisted as the interviews with the suspects and witnesses were conducted.

Peterson was arrested Sunday.

Other suspects include a 19-year-old Merrill man, an 18-year-old Merrill woman and a 20-year-old Merrill woman, all of whom will be summoned on multiple counts of criminal damage to property. Police have declined to release the names of those suspects and say additional charges are possible.

These cases drew widespread attention due to the good deeds of some residents who used their time and effort to clean up their mess, police said.

A status conference for Peterson is set for Nov. 18.