Suspect In String Of Black Church Fires In Louisiana Charged With Hate Crimes

April 16, 2019  |  

Bible in prayer room

Source: Felbert+Eickenberg / STOCK4B / Getty

On Monday the 21-year-old suspect arrested in connection to three historically Black church fires in Louisiana was additionally charged with hate crimes, according to the Associated Press.

Holden Matthews, who is also the son of St. Landry Parish Deputy Sheriff Roy Matthews, now faces three more charges—prosecutors accuse Matthews of violating Louisiana’s hate crime law, with the belief that the fires were racially motivated.

The new charges are in addition to the violations filed against him at the time of his arrest on Wednesday, which included three counts of simple arson on a religious building. During a hearing on Monday Matthews plead not guilty and was denied bond by the judge.

Matthews may also face additional federal hate crime and arson charges, the AP reports.

The fires occurred across 10 days beginning on March 26, April 2 and April 4. The first was at St. Mary Baptist Church in the Port Barre; the two others were at Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the small city of Opelousas. Fortunately no one was physical harmed in the aftermath of the fires.

Community members have spoken out regarding the devastating effects on the community, drudging up imagery of the violent attacks many Black churches and parishioners experienced pre and post the Jim Crow era. The demolished churches were over 100 years old and serviced generations of Black St. Landry Parish community members.

A GoFundMe has been launched to support the rebuilding efforts of the three house of worship.

The investigation was a coordinated effort across several law enforcement agencies, including the F.B.I., the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as the Louisiana and Florida state fire marshals, the cybercrime unit of the Louisiana attorney general’s office, and state and local police, according to The New York Times.

Officials were able to link Matthews to the act by tracing his cell phone records, receipts purchased for gas at a neighboring Walmart, and by Matthews’ possession of images of the church fires in the early stages and the destruction days after, in addition to copies of news reports about the fires.

“He actually superimposed himself on those news reports, claiming responsibility for these fires,” Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning testified at Monday’s hearing.

A pretrial hearing was set for July 17, with jury selection scheduled to begin in the trial on Sept. 10, according to the AP.

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