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PROVO — Welcome back to Utah County, rivalry week.
On the morning of the first football game between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University at LaVell Edwards Stadium since 2013, BYU fans awoke to a little more red on campus.
A cougar near the southwest gate at LaVell Edwards Stadium was spray painted with a block "U” logo, as well as inappropriate language, in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Four individuals were arrested, cited for criminal mischief and banned from campus in connection with the vandalism, BYU Police Lt. Steven Messick told KSL.
Lt. Messick said officers responded to a tip from a student around 4:50 a.m. Saturday morning. The officers located four individuals in a vehicle who admitted to tagging the statue.
"Officers spoke with people in the vehicle, they could smell the spray paint, they saw red spray paint on their hands and they all admitted to spraying the cougar," Lt. Messick said. "There were also stencils in the car."
The four individuals were cited with criminal mischief, released from custody and banned from BYU campus. Vandalism falls under criminal mischief.
"With a little good work, they found these folks and hopefully that will stop other people from doing these things," Lt. Messick said. "This goes beyond, and it’s totally inappropriate.”
The statue was a gift to the university from BYU's class of 1965.
Students from the BYU “Roar of Cougars” support section began lining up at the stadium at 9 a.m. MDT and did not see the incident. Multiple checks were made as students camped out in the parking lot on the west side of the stadium on Canyon Road through Saturday night. The last check was made at 1 a.m. MT Saturday morning, multiple students said, when no incident was noticed.
Grounds crew services with BYU were still cleaning the defaced statue around 11 a.m. Saturday morning. The crew of 2 to 4 individuals, armed with paint thinner and lacquer, were able to scrub the vandalism before the majority of fans arrived in advance of the 8:15 p.m. MDT kickoff on ESPN2.
Officials with the university and BYU athletics did not immediately return a request for comment.
In recent years, BYU has shrink-wrapped statues and public pieces of art during rivalry week to keep alleged vandalism at bay. It is unknown why this year’s rivalry game did not include a similar measure.
No other statues were defaced Saturday morning. Students from both universities met Tuesday to decorate a statue of Brigham Young on campus in purple for climate change awareness, in connection with the organization The Climate Campaign.
Contributing: Marc Giauque