The Dallas Morning News

White deputy’s son held in burning of black churches

Heartbroke­n father helped arrange for young man’s arrest

- By MELINDA DESLATTE and KEVIN MCGILL

OPELOUSAS, La. — The white son of a sheriff ’s deputy has been jailed without bail in a string of fires that destroyed three black churches in rural Louisiana, authoritie­s said Thursday.

Holden Matthews, 21, whose father helped arrange for his arrest, faces arson charges in connection with the blazes in and around Opelousas, a city of 16,000 where the flamegutte­d remains of the buildings evoked memories of civil rights era violence.

Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning offered no motive for the fires and stopped short of calling them hate crimes. Eric Rommal, the agent in charge of the New Orleans FBI office, said investigat­ors were still looking into whether the fires were “biasmotiva­ted.”

Browning said that there were no indication­s that anyone else was involved.

“This community is safe again,” he told a news conference. “We are extremely, unequivoca­lly confident that we have the person who is responsibl­e for these tragic crimes.”

The Rev. Harry Richard, pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church, which was destroyed, said the arrest was letting him sleep at night.

“I felt relieved my congregati­on didn’t have to worry anymore,” said Richard, who was told of the arrest late Wednesday. “I was reassured that law enforcemen­t was on our side, that things were finally coming to an end,” he said.

A red gasoline can found charred at one of the churches was sold at Walmarts, and the company’s investigat­ors found that the same type of can had been bought March 25 at a store in Opelousas, along with automotive cloths and a lighter. The debit card used in that purchase belonged to Matthews, according to court documents.

“The purchase time on this receipt is less than three hours before the first church fire was reported,” an affidavit said.

In addition, cellphone tower data showed Matthews was in the area of all three fires. Surveillan­ce video from businesses and homes near the churches, and on the roads to and from each fire scene, repeatedly showed a vehicle consistent with the beige pickup that belonged to Matthews’ father.

St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz confirmed that the suspect was the son of Deputy Roy Matthews, whom he described as an excellent employee who had known nothing of his son’s actions.

The elder Matthews was heartbroke­n when told his son was a suspect, the sheriff said: “He broke down. It was hard.”

He said the father arranged for the son to leave the house and go to a place where he could be arrested without incident.

 ?? Gerald Herbert/the Associated Press ?? St. Mary Baptist was one of three predominan­tly black churches torched in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish between March 26 and April 4. FBI Agent Eric Rommal said the bureau was looking into whether the fires were “biasmotiva­ted.”
Gerald Herbert/the Associated Press St. Mary Baptist was one of three predominan­tly black churches torched in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish between March 26 and April 4. FBI Agent Eric Rommal said the bureau was looking into whether the fires were “biasmotiva­ted.”
 ??  ?? HOLDEN MATTHEWS
HOLDEN MATTHEWS

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