Son of Sheriff’s Deputy Arrested in Burning of 3 Black Churches in Louisiana
“For decades, African-American churches have served as the epicenter of survival and a symbol of hope for many in the African-American community. As a consequence, these houses of faith have historically been the targets of violence.”
Holden Matthews, 21, was arrested in Louisiana on Thursday and charged with three counts of simple arson on a religious building in St. Landry Parish which is in south-central Louisiana at the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun-Creole country. Each charge carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Three black churches were set ablaze in one ten-day span. While officials couldn’t determine if the fires were related at first, with the arrest officials now say the burnings are related and were intentionally set.
The first church to burn was St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26, followed by Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2 and, two days later, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the same town.
A smaller fire was set on March 31 at a predominantly white church in a Louisiana town 200 miles away, but officials believe while that fire was intentionally set it had no connection to the other three church fires.
Although no injuries or deaths have been reported, the fires caused considerable damage to all three churches and evoked the era of Jim Crow where black churches were frequently targeted with violence.
“For decades, African-American churches have served as the epicenter of survival and a symbol of hope for many in the African-American community,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said to CNN. “As a consequence, these houses of faith have historically been the targets of violence.”
Holden Matthews was also the son of an officer on the arresting parish’s police force, as St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said. Guidroz said he broke the news of Matthews’ alleged involvement to the deputy, whom he described as one of his best friends.
“As we all know, Holden’s father is an employee of mine, a fine man,” Guidroz said. “He was shocked and hurt as any father would be … He was in terrible shape.”
Motive in the arson cases is unclear but officials are considering Matthews ties to a genre of music known as “black metal.”
State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said, “Information investigators have uncovered, and that Matthews has offered, suggests a possible connection with a genre of music called ‘black metal’ and its associated history with church burnings in other parts of the world — which have been documented in movies and books.”
Investigators discovered Matthews’ involvement in the fires when security camera footage outside of Greater Union Baptist captured footage of a pickup truck driving away from the church moments before it caught on fire. The same truck was also seen later slowing down and driving by the church.
The remains of a charred two-gallon gas can also lead to Matthews. Officials discovered that particular brand of gas can was sold at a nearby Walmart. The Walmart produced copies of a receipt showing Holden Matthews had purchased the same brand of gas can along with a 10-pack of automotive cloths and a lighter on March 25, only a few hours before the first church fire.
Officials believe they have the right man and no one else is involved. The FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting in the investigations as they work to determine if the arson falls under the category of a hate crime.