On Wednesday evening authorities in St. Landry Parish arrested 21-year-old Holden Matthews in connection to three church fires which devastated the surrounding Black community.
An investigation after the fires launched by the State Fire Marshall in conjunction with the FBI led to Matthews, who is ironically the son St. Landry Deputy Roy Matthews. He was charged with three counts of simple arson of a religious building, and faces a maximum penalty of 45 years in prison (the maximum penalty for each count is 15 years).
Police say they were able to trace Matthews by tracking down his credit card which he used to purchase gas at the local Walmart, according to CBS News.
Matthews’ father reportedly did not help authorities turn his son in and was unaware of his dealings, but is “shocked and hurt, as any father would be,” according to Sheriff Bobby Guidroz of St. Landry Parish.
The fires took place within the span of 10 days—first at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2, and nearby Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on April 4.
Police have not yet revealed a motive, while many are summoning the NAACP’s official statement on the fires, labeling it an act of domestic terrorism intended to target and isolate community members based on race and faith.
“We must not turn a blind eye to any incident where people are targeted because of the color of their skin or their faith,” the organization said in a statement on Monday. “The spike in church burnings in Southern states is a reflection of the emboldened racial rhetoric and tension spreading across the country. But this is nothing new.”
The fires and Matthews’ subsequent arrest have rattled the community of St. Landry, and Black community members in particular, due to the act which has long penetrated the deepest fears of Black parishoners in the south and beyond.
“I don’t know what this young man’s motive was … it cannot be justified or rationalized,” Gov. Bel Edwards said during a Thursday morning press conference. “These are evil acts.”