The son of a Louisiana sheriff’s deputy has been arrested for a series of fires targeting historically black churches.
Holden Matthews, 21, was arrested Wednesday evening and charged with three counts of simple arson of a religious building after three churches in St. Landry Parish were torched in recent weeks, according to local station KATC.
Matthews is the son of St. Landry Parish Deputy Roy Matthews who reportedly had “no knowledge” of his son’s activities, according to a press conference Thursday morning by St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz, CBS News reports.
Guidroz said the deputy was “shocked and hurt” by the allegations facing his son and assisted authorities by bringing him to a neutral location where officers would be able to make an arrest, according to The Acadiana Advocate.
Louisiana State Fire Marshal Chief Butch Browning said investigators are still trying to confirm the motive for the fires, however, he said Matthews was associated with a kind of “black metal” music that is “associated with church burnings.”
“This was an attack on the house of God,” he said at a press conference Thursday.
Matthews is accused of setting fire to three churches in a matter of 10 days. The first began March 26 at the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. A second fire occurred at Greater Union Baptist on April 2. The third fire took place at Pleasant Baptist Church on April 4.
“There’s still people that need to be helped, there’s still ministry that has to be done, so we can’t let this setback stop us from doing what God has initially called us to do,” Pastor Kyle Sylvester of St. Mary’s Baptist Church said after the blazes.
In a statement issued before Matthews arrest, the NAACP said the organization was troubled by the fires, which they believed had been racially motivated.
“The spike in church burnings in Southern states is the reflection of the emboldened racial rhetoric and tension spreading across the country. But this is nothing new,” they wrote. “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.”
Federal authorities are continuing to investigate any possible motives of hate in the blazes and have not yet announced any formal conclusions about what may have driven the young man to allegedly set the fires.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said regardless of the motive the acts could not be rationalized or justified.
"These were evil acts. Hate has no place in Louisiana. Hate is not a Louisiana value and violence has no place in our communities,” he said.
The investigative effort included assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, ATF, FBI and state and local law enforcement.
“I’m very proud of the investigative effort that has lead to this arrest,” Rep. Clay Higgins said in a statement to KATC. “I’m prayerful we can close this horrific chapter and begin to heal. I’m especially uplifted by the Christian community right now. God bless us one and all.”
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