A 15-year-old accused graffiti vandal from Greenfield initially denied that it was his image captured in video surveillance pictures.
"He's arrogant," said Officer Frank Rende of the city's Graffiti Task Force. "He said it wasn't him."
But he later confessed, police say.
Task force detectives charged the boy on Aug. 17 with 18 counts of criminal mischief, two counts of institutional vandalism and two counts of criminal conspiracy.
Police say the boy, who is not being identified because he is a juvenile, spray-painted or otherwise marked businesses and homes in Squirrel Hill, Greenfield and Oakland with the tags "gost," "aose" and "nac."
Those words don't really mean anything.
"They make it up," Officer Rende said of the taggers. "It's a source of pride for them."
The three-man graffiti squad, which has made 12 arrests since its creation last year, maintains a database of all graffiti in the city and works closely with community groups to track it. Officers had seen the juvenile's signature writings for several weeks and suspect they might find more as time goes by.
People in Greenfield and other neighborhoods recognized the teen from still photos made from surveillance tapes at businesses in Squirrel Hill.
The boy was fairly prolific, but he's no Daniel Montano, the San Francisco art student awaiting trial on 88 tagging counts.
Mr. Montano, who signed his creations "MFONE," is believed to be the most notorious tagger in city history, causing an estimated $577,000 in damage.
But police consider him a breed apart from the average tagger. He's older, at 21, than most of the others and had a particularly deft touch with a spray-paint can.
"Montano has real talent; he's an artist," said Officer Rende. "These other guys are copycats. But they're all vandals."
The teen, whose handiwork is estimated to have caused $24,000 in damage, is being held at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center and faces a court hearing tomorrow.
Police are looking for his partner or partners. On many of the walls he is accused of tagging, detectives found the word "never" and believe it's the signature of another would-be artist.
It might be tough tracking him down, though. Police usually don't have much luck getting taggers to inform on each other.
"We try," said Officer Rende. "But they don't give up their friends."
Torsten Ove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-1510.