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Suspect Arrested in Church Fires

OPELOUSAS, LA--A suspect has been arrested and charged with arson and hate crimes after three predominately black churches in southern Louisiana were burned down.

Holden Matthews, 21, was charged with three counts of simple arson on a religious building for allegedly setting fire to three churches in St. Landry Parish over the course of 10 days. He pleaded not guilty and was not granted bond. If found guilty, Matthews could face up to 65 years in prison. And with federal authorities investigating the blazes, it’s possible Matthews could face federal charges as well.

Officials said Matthews is the son of a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s deputy. He appeared to be a fan of “black metal” music which has been associated with white nationalist ideology and church burnings.

“We are grateful that law enforcement worked very rapidly,” said John Milton, the religious affairs chairman of the NAACP chapter in Lafayette, about 20 miles from the churches. “But we believe that it’s much deeper than this case. Because of the past history of black church burnings, the bottom line is we know there is a substantial connection between race and this event, and this is not an isolated incident.”

The three fires destroyed churches that had existed for more than a century and had been the spiritual homes of generations of black families. The first fire occurred on March 26 at St. Mary’s Baptist Church in the Port Barre, the second on April 2 at Greater Union Baptist Church and the third on April 4 at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church both in the city of Opelousas.

Louisiana Fire Marshall Butch Browning offered no motive for the fires. He also indicated that there were no other suspects and that the danger to churches was now over. ..To read more, subscribe to the blackchronicle newspaper