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UPDATE: No bond for fire suspect; old-fashioned police work solved the crime

KATC Investigates has obtained the booking records for Holden Matthews, the 21-year-old son of a sheriff’s deputy arrested yesterday in connection with three church arsons. Those records also show that old-fashioned, “follow the evidence” police work solved the crime.

The records indicate a judge has denied bond for Matthews and, instead, has set a bond hearing for May 2.

The booking records also indicate that the first break appeared to come when investigators obtained surveillance video from a business and a home near the second fire, at Greater Union Baptist Church, as well as a statement from a firefighter who saw a pick-up truck leave the area while he was trying to fight the fire.

The records also indicate that a piece of a gas can was recovered from the Mount Pleasant fire, which investigators traced to a company that sold gas cans at Walmart. With Walmart’s assistance, investigators tracked down the purchase of several gas cans, shop towels and a lighter at the Opelousas Walmart. The retail company also pulled surveillance photos of the sale, and were able to provide investigators with a photograph, the record states.

The VISA card used to make the purchase was issued to Matthews, and the purchase was made less than three hours before the first fire was reported, the record states.

The Walmart video also showed Matthews getting into a truck, the record states. That truck matched the truck the firefighter saw at the second fire, the records state.

While all this was going on, investigators also were getting surveillance from all possible locations – businesses, homes, etc. – in the area of each fire. And, they obtained a warrant for cell phone towers in that area.

That warrant yielded evidence that Matthews’ cell phone “pinged” towers near the churches at the time of each fire, the record states.

As we reported earlier today, local, state and federal officials Thursday morning confirmed what KATC reported yesterday: Matthews was arrested for the three recent fires at historically African-American churches in St. Landry Parish.

At a press conference this morning, Governor John Bel Edwards said that the three fires in St. Landry were connected, but authorities don’t believe the recent fire at a Caddo Parish church was related.

Investigators are focused on the possibility that Matthews’ involvement with “black metal,” which was connected to several church fires in Norway in the 1990s, may have been part of his motive. Federal authorities are still investigating any hate-related motive, meaning Matthews may face other charges later.

Holden Matthews / Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office

The governor commended the work investigators did to make an arrest in this investigation.

“I want to express my sincere appreciation for their work in this case.” Edwards said. “Everyone has been working around the clock.”

“These were evil acts…hate is not a Louisiana value,” Edwards said. “This not a reflection on the State of Louisiana.”

He asked for prayers for the congregations and for Matthews.

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said Holden is “unequivocally” the man responsible for these crimes.

Last night, KATC reported that Matthews was booked into the St. Landry Parish Jail. He’s facing three counts simple arson of a religious building. If convicted, he faces a minimum two years in prison and a maximum 15 years on each count. As of Thursday evening, Matthews was transferred to another jail; however, the State Fire Marshal’s Office is not releasing exactly where because of “safety reasons.” The decision was made by the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office, a spokeswoman with the fire marshal’s office tells KATC.

A look inside the press conference / KATC

The first fire happened on March 26, when the St. Mary Baptist Church in the 100 block of Saqueget Road in Port Barre was destroyed. The second followed on April 2, when fire burned the Greater Union Baptist Church in the 1400 block of Hwy 742 in Opelousas. The last happened on April 4, at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the 3900 block of Highway 182 in Opelousas.

Investigators say they have determined all three fires were intentionally set. Several pieces of evidence, both from the scenes and from technological resources, have confirmed Matthews as the primary suspect.

The investigative team still is working leads on several potential motives, but at this time evidence points to a connection with “black metal,” a genre of music that was associated with church burnings in Europe in the 1990s. That association has been documented in movies and books. Potential hate motives also are being vetted by the team, authorities say.

The collaboration on this case included around 100 people, most of them from the SFM, ATF, FBI and Louisiana State Police. Also assisting were the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, and several other local law enforcement and fire agencies. The Fire Marshal also thanked the Florida Bureau of Fire, Arson and Explosives Investigations for sending a team to participate in the investigation.

“I am so proud of the team work that has returned a sense of security to this community by determining a cause for these fires and putting the person responsible for them behind bars,” Browning said. “I, and all of the investigators involved in this, have been emotionally committed to this case, not only because of the significance of these churches, but also the threat of additional fires. This outcome goes to show what happens when well-oiled public safety partnerships pay dividends. I can never give total condolences to these church communities for the losses of their places of worship. However, I hope this begins to help their healing.”

Browning said he also like to thank the community for its patience and cooperation with this investigation.

Browning said that the pastors in this investigation worked with investigators every step of the way. They will continue to help the congregations to help in the rebuilding process.

ATF says that the investigation into these fires will continue. A cause of the fires has not been determined and law enforcement are not actively searching for any other suspects. The FBI says that they are collaborating to investigate whether this crime is hate motivated or “bias related” event.

St. Landry Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said that his crews dedicated their time to patrolling vulnerable churches in the parish. He said the parish is home to more than 100 churches similar to the congregations that burned.

This case, Guidroz says, was not solved through tips or connections but with investigators’ “boots on the ground” efforts. Guidroz reiterated that Holden Matthews father did not turn him in. He is an employee with the Sheriff’s Office in St. Landry Parish.

Guidroz says that Matthews was not aware of his son’s action.

*KATC did not report that Matthews family turned him in to officials.

Pastor Gerald Toussaint of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church hanked the hard work of law enforcement officials.

“There is a higher power going on right now.” Toussaint said. “All had a purpose in this investigation.”

Toussaint said that congregations have suffered but they have become stronger through this. He asked for prayers as they move forward.

The full press conference can be viewed below:

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The first fire occurred on March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. The second occurred at Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2. The third occurred on April 4 at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas.

A GoFundMe account has been created for those wishing to give to the churches. More here

Read more about the arrest and statements from officials at the link below.

Multiple sources: One in custody in church fires

 

KATC News

KATC News

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