Holden Matthews, 21, has been charged with three simple counts of arson on a religious building, CNN reports. Each charge carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. He is the son of Roy Matthews, sheriff deputy in St. Landry Parish in Louisiana.
St. Landry Parish Sheriff, Bobby Guidroz, stated in a press conference earlier today that law enforcement is “extremely, unequivicably confident” that they have in custody the perpetrator of the crimes and that the community is safe again. He also told reporters that Roy Matthews “broke down” when informed of his son’s arrest, per CBS.
Guidroz said that Matthews helped get his son out of the house so law enforcement could arrest him but did not turn his son in or take him into custody himself, as had been reported earlier, and pointed to hard work by authorities for solving the case.
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said, “We can now confirm all three of these fires are intentionally set and all three of these fires are related.” He stated that physical and “technological” evidence points to Matthews intentionally setting fire to the churches, the Washington Post reports.
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards spoke at the news conference saying that the burning of historically black churches has been “especially painful because it reminds us of a very dark past of intimidation and fear.” “Nobody should ever fear for their safety in a house of worship, or fear their church will be destroyed,” Edwards said, “I don’t know what this young man’s motive was. I don’t know what was in his heart. But I can say it cannot be justified or rationalized. Let me be clear — these were evil acts.”
Authorities are investigating the motive. At the press conference, an official from the FBI spoke about the possibility that the crimes were hate crimes, “We need to go where the evidence takes us.”
“Black metal” is being looked at as a possible influence. CBS reports that Matthews is interested in black heavy metal music and is the lead singer of a band called Vodka Vultures. Black metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal originating in Scandinavia. A series of church burnings in Norway in the 1990s were claimed as protests against Christianity by fans of the music and Varg Vikernes, a well known individual associated with black metal in Norway, was imprisoned for the burning of three churches in 1994.
The rural Louisiana community was shaken by fires at three churches within two weeks. On March 26, St. Mary Baptist Church was burned to the ground. Greater Union Baptist Church followed on April 2, a week later. The third fire at the 140 year-old Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church occurred on April 4, according to WAFB. The churches were empty when the fires occurred and no one was hurt.
A fourth intentionally set fire, 200 miles away at a predominately white church in Caddo Parish, is being investigated according to CNN, but officials said there is no evidence linking Matthews to that fire at this time.
Rev. Gerald Toussaint, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, told ABC, “The church is not that building. The church is the people. If we stay together as a congregation, the church is alive and well. We can rebuild the building as long as we stay together.”
Browning praised the pastors for helping with the investigation, calling them “very unique criminal investigators”.