Suspect Arrested in Arsons at Historic Black Churches in Louisiana

Police have arrested a suspect in connection with fires set at multiple Black Baptist churches in Louisiana. Holden Matthews was arrested on Wednesday in St. Landry Parish in Louisiana, ABC News reported. The 21-year-old was identified by authorities for allegedly setting fires at three Black Louisiana churches in just 10 days. He is being held in St. Landry Parish Jail on three counts of simple arson of a religious building and could face 15 years in prison, CBS News reported. Matthews allegedly torched St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the same city on April 4, the Associated Press reported. The churches were more than 100 years old, according to the publication. No one was inside the churches during the fires, and no one was harmed according to CBS News.

Authorities said they found a gas can at one of the scenes of the fires and traced it back to a local Walmart, where they were able to link it with Matthews’ credit card, according to an affidavit reviewed by ABC News. "We saw an immediate threat of public safety. We felt that other crimes were imminent," Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. "Butch" Browning told ABC News. Browning said that the investigation is ongoing and added that Matthews reportedly had ties to "black metal and its association and history with church burnings in other parts of the world."

On his Facebook page, Matthews has the words “black metal” spray painted on a wall behind him, the AP reported. The suspect also commented on a movie’s portrayal of Varg Vikernes, a black metal musician and a member of a far-right group who was convicted of arson at three churches and manslaughter. The suspect is also the son of Deputy Roy Matthews, who works at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said during a news conference on Thursday according to ABC News. Guidroz told reporters that the suspect’s father “knew nothing about his son’s activity” and “is in terrible shape” upon learning the news.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a statement on Thursday following the arrest of Matthews, calling the arsons an act of “domestic terrorism.”

“The arrest of Holden Matthews for the horrific burnings of Black churches in Louisiana is just another example of the hate-fueled times that we live in,” the statement read. “In African American communities in the South, church burnings are historically linked to expressions of racism and domestic terrorism. This is the same domestic terrorism that has been the hammer and chisel used to chip away at the humanity of Black Americans and the suppression of our political power.” The statement continued that the organization has noticed a rise in hate crimes and white supremacy since Donald Trump was elected president.

“Since Trump has taken office, we’ve seen a rise in white supremacy and hate crimes — so much so that we issued letters to push both the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees of the House of Representatives to hold hearings for the resurgence of hate and raced-based crimes that are overcoming the nation,” the NAACP continued. “Change must come from the top and we will continue to push Congress for additional hearings and concrete next steps to thwart acts of terrorism against communities of color.”

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help raise money for the three churches. The fundraiser began on Wednesday and has raised over $14,000 of it’s $1.8 million goal as of Thursday.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.