Newswire : Suspect arrested in case of three church fires in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana

By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Louisiana Black church burning

A man arrested in connection with the Louisiana Black church fires is a law enforcement official’s son, reports say. When he was arraigned this past week, the judge denied his request for bail based on the severity and impact of his crimes.
A 21-year-old named Holden Matthews has been arrested in connection with fires at three predominantly Black churches in Louisiana. All three churches were destroyed. Matthews’ social media accounts evidenced loose connections with white supremacy.
St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre burned down on March 26. On April 2, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana was burned down. Two days after that fire on April 4, the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church was also burned in the same town. Authorities are confident that the fires were all intentionally set.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus asked for the FBI to investigate the arsons as a hate crime.
“Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, and Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana’s Second Congressional District call on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and all federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the possible hate crime that resulted in the recent burning of the three historically Black churches in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. All three fires may be the product of domestic terrorism, and places of worship should be protected and safe at all times. It is our expectation that the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies work expeditiously to resolve this matter to restore faith and normalcy among the residents of St. Landry Parish,” the CBC members stated in a statement on April 11.
On April 9, NAACP President Derrick Johnson commented on the church fires saying, “What is happening in Tennessee and Louisiana is domestic terrorism and we must not turn a blind eye to any incident where people are targeted because of the color of their skin and their faith.”
“The spike in church burnings in the Southern states is a reflection of emboldened racial rhetoric and tension spreading across the country,” Johnson added.
Johnson and other civil rights leaders have pointed out that President Trump has been silent on these Louisiana church burnings and other ‘hate crimes’.
Several black churches were burned in 2015 after the nine people were murdered by Dylan Roof at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1995, three Black churches in Greene County, Alabama were burned and subsequently rebuilt.
Holden Matthews was taken into custody on the evening of April 10, according to Louisiana TV station KATC. The station also reported that Matthews is the son of a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s deputy but did not name who the deputy was.
At the time the fires were set at the churches they were empty.
Matthews’ social media indicated an interest in heavy metal music and that he is the lead singer of a band called Vodka Vultures. Reports from local news reveal Matthews lives in Saint Landry Parish.

‘Newswire: Suspicious fires’ fires burn three churches in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana

From CNN and KLFY-TV in Lafayette reports

Three historically Black churches in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana were burned between March 26 and April 4, 2019. State Fire marshals 

and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are investigating the cause of the fires.

The fires destroyed St. Mary Baptist Church in the community of Port Barre, and Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, the parish seat.

   The churches in rural St. Landry Parish -- about 30 miles north of Lafayette -- have burned since March 26 in what officials have described as "suspicious circumstances."

"There is clearly something happening in this community," State Fire Marshal H. Browning said in a statement.

Standing outside the charred remains of the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas — which burned on Tuesday — Pastor Harry Richard said he looked forward to meeting elsewhere with his congregation on Sunday.

"Quite naturally, something like this would shake us up," he told CNN affiliate KLFY. "I'm very concerned but I'm very optimistic because of our faith in God and, no matter what happens, I feel like this is his plan," Richard said. "He's going to bring me through this."

The first fire occurred March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. Greater Union burned on Tuesday and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, also in Opelousas, suffered a fire on Thursday.

"We believe these three fires are suspicious," Browning said. "We are falling short of talking about what caused the fires, falling short of saying they are related, however cognizant that there is a problem and no coincidence that there are three fires."

Officials were also investigating a fourth, smaller fire last Sunday at the predominantly white Vivian United Pentecostal Church in Caddo Parish more than 200 miles north of St. Landry. The blaze was intentionally set
"The three fires in St. Landry Parish contain suspicious elements, but we have not yet classified them," said Ashley Rodrigue, a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal.

Gov. John Bell Edwards this week appealed for the public's help with the investigations. "Our churches are sacred, central parts of our communities and everyone should feel safe in their place of worship, " he said in a statement. "We do not know the cause of these fires in St. Landry and Caddo parishes, but my heart goes out to each of the congregations and all of those who call these churches home."

Law enforcement presence increases at houses of worship

Browning said the remains of the three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish are considered crime scenes.

“Investigating a fire is a very lengthy process,” he said. “It’s one of the most complicated and unconventional crime scenes you’ll ever enter because most of the evidence is burned away.

The FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting in the investigations. “It’s imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is,” Browning said.

St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said authorities were "doing everything we can" to protect churches and determine the cause of the fires. Law enforcement presence at houses of worship has increased.

"You got to have a certain degree of anger because there's no reason for this," Deacon Earnest Hines of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas told CNN affiliate WBRZ.

"You know the history of our country. During the civil rights struggle, they had all these incidents that would happen and sometimes that happens again," he said.

Richard told CNN affiliate KATC Greater Union Baptist Church embodied more than 100 years of history. "Our parents, grandparents went here," he said. "Buried in the back there, some of them are."

On Sunday, he told KLFY he planned to preach about God’s grace to his displaced congregation.

This incident of burning Black churches reminds people in Greene County, Alabama of 1995 when five Black churches in rural parts of the county were burned.