The Dallas Morning News
White deputy’s son held in burning of black churches
Heartbroken father helped arrange for young man’s arrest
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.