Cops son arrested in black church fires

Holden MatthewsImage copyright
Facebook/Holden Matthews

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Holden Matthews was reportedly turned over to state officials by his own father, a police deputy

The son of a local police deputy has been arrested as the suspect in three fires at black churches in southern Louisiana, officials say.

Holden Matthews, 21, who is the son of a St Landry Parish officer, was arrested on Wednesday, said officials.

The burnings did not result in deaths or injuries.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said the “evil acts” dredged up “a very dark past of intimidation and fear” from the civil rights era.

The Democrat said the alleged arson was perpetrated by a “depraved individual”, adding: “Hate is not a Louisiana value.”

Louisiana State Fire Marshal Butch Browning told reporters on Thursday the suspect has been charged with three counts of arson on religious buildings, carrying a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

The suspect lives in the community where the fires took place.

His Facebook page lists him as the lead singer and songwriter of a heavy metal band called Vodka Vultures.

On Wednesday, US Attorney David Joseph confirmed that a suspect was identified and taken into state custody over the “despicable acts”.

State and local police, the Fire Marshal’s Office, FBI, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were involved in the investigation.

The blazes occurred on 26 March, 2 April and 4 April in Opelousas, Louisiana.

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Debris at one of the church fires in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish

The fires engulfed St Mary Baptist Church, the Greater Union Baptist Church and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, all in the same rural community 30 minutes north of Lafayette.

Officials said they have no reason to believe the fires are related to another incident of suspected arson on 31 March at a predominantly white church a few hours away from the community.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) called the church burnings incidents of “domestic terrorism” against people of colour.

Greater Union Baptist Church Pastor Harry Richard told CBS his grandfather helped found the church over a century ago and the fire had damaged his family’s history.

“He left a legacy for me, and I was trying to fulfil that to the best of my ability.”

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