21-year-old Holden Matthews, son of a Louisiana sheriff's deputy, has been arrested as a prime suspect.
On Wednesday night, the investigation from federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities into the series of fires came to fruition. 21-year-old Holden Matthews was arrested and charged with three counts of arson of a religious building for setting fire ablaze three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana.
According to NPR, Matthews is the son of local Sheriff Roy Matthew - who reportedly also assisted the law enforcement by “drawing his son away from their home so authorities could arrest him without incident.”
"I don't know what this young man's motive was. I don't know what was in his heart," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference Thursday morning. "But I can say it cannot be justified or rationalized. These were evil acts."
Louisiana officer's son arrested over black church fires https://t.co/EAddrewxQ1— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) 11 April 2019
Matthews was charged with state crimes on three counts of simple arson of a religious building, said Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. "Butch" Browning. Each charge has a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
The fires had started on March 26 - when the news had hit that the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre was on fire. The Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas burned on April 2, and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, also in Opelousas, on April 4.
Police identify suspect in Louisiana black church fires as sheriff deputy’s son.— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) 11 April 2019
Authorities have so far declined to discuss whether they believe race was a factor in the crimes. https://t.co/QZepen46dl
Based on the investigation and the information received by the authorities so far, NPR reports that this series of racist terrorist attacks might have been motivated by 'black metal' - a sub-genre of heavy metal music, previously associated with church arson attacks in Norway and elsewhere.
"I want to say to the individuals who engage in these types of crimes: You have caused pain and you have caused hurt. But know this — that you cannot destroy our faith. We can have church anywhere." — ATF Special Agent in Charge Dana Nichols on Louisiana black church fires pic.twitter.com/rXhSbnSprk— CBS News (@CBSNews) 11 April 2019
St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz told reporters that the suspect's father, Deputy Roy Matthews, "was shocked and hurt, as any father would be."
The deputy knew nothing about his son's alleged activities, Guidroz said. "And when I had to call him in and we sat him down and told him what we wanted him here for, he broke down."
“How can you love God who you’ve never seen but hate your brothers & sisters who you see every day?”-speaking on the 3 recent Louisiana black church fires, the investigation of these fires, a rise in hate crimes in the US, & how people of faith must unite against hate. #MSNBCLive pic.twitter.com/SPLUQarr5E— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) 11 April 2019
Holden Matthews complied with officers' requests during the arrest, authorities said, adding that he has no previous history of violence or arrest.
The sheriff did not say whether Matthews confessed to the arson allegations or denied them.
A lot of work - including hours of manpower, drones, and old-fashioned detective work had led them to Matthews, Guidroz told NPR.
And both physical evidence from the crime scenes and "technological evidence" confirmed him as a suspect, Browning told reporters.
Black churches were:— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) 11 April 2019
- Burned during Jim Crow
- Bombed in 1963
- Under gunfire in 2015
This is terrorism. Make no mistake, the recent church fires in Louisiana are horrific, but the fear they were intended to cause pale in comparison to the unshakable faith of those targeted. https://t.co/JkLsdZTfF4
While the authorities are still vetting numerous motives for the crime, law enforcement considered that it might become an imminent threat to public safety - leading them to secure warrants to bring Matthews into custody.
A social media account that appeared to be Matthews' showed images of the young man playing the electric guitar and taking selfies. The profile said that he was the lead singer and songwriter for a band called Vodka Vultures.
BREAKING: The suspect in custody in connection with fires at 3 historically black churches in Louisiana is the son of a sheriff's deputy. He has been identified as Holden Matthews, 21, a source briefed on the investigation tells NBC News. #HoldenMatthewshttps://t.co/aMByi3pl8s— Shomari Stone (@shomaristone) 11 April 2019
The time and proximity of the flames led people to wonder whether the fires were linked. Pastors prayed that the arsons were not racist acts, part of a violent legacy for black churches in the South, which have been attacked since the civil rights movement.
While NPR also reports that Heidi Beirich - who oversees the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project and its hate map, tells that the deep South still feels deep scars from its past. "The history of slavery and Jim Crow and segregation has meant race relations are more fraught than in other parts of the country."