Investigators have arrested the son of a Louisiana sheriff’s deputy for allegedly setting fires at three historically Black churches, PEOPLE confirms.
Holden Matthews, 21, was arrested and charged with three counts of simple arson of a religious building. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years. The department of the suspect’s father has been involved in the investigation, which is still ongoing, officials said.
“We’re still vetting several motives,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a press conference Thursday. Edwards alleged the suspect’s purported interest in “black metal” music, a sub-genre of heavy metal music that has been associated with church burnings, may have played a role in his motive.
Before the press conference, there were reports that Matthews’ father, St. Landry’s Parish Sheriff’s deputy Roy Matthews, had turned his son in to authorities. Officials denied the reports during the press conference.
“He was shocked and hurt like any father would be,” said Sheriff Bobby Guidroz about his conversation with Deputy Matthews. “He was in terrible shape.”
PEOPLE’s call to the elder Matthews was not returned.
It was unclear whether the suspect has an attorney who could comment on his behalf, and he has not yet entered a plea.
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On March 26, fire officials got a call about a fire at St. Mary Baptist in Port Barre around 3:40 a.m. The fire burned holes through the church’s roof and left only most of its brick exterior standing the next day, the Lafayette Daily Advertiser reported.
Mt. Pleasant Baptist was more than 140 years old, according to Rev. Gerald Toussaint.
“My church has a lot of history. I don’t understand it. What could make a person do that to a church?” he told the Advertiser. “By the time I got back here, it was done. It burned hot and fast.”
About a week later, on April 2 and 4, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas respectively caught fire, according to a statement from the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
“We’re very cognizant that there’s a problem, and there’s no coincidence that there are three fires,” State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said during a press conference last week. “We believe these three fires are suspicious.”
Browning said no one was injured because the fires started in the middle of the night while the churches were vacant.
The fires echo similar incidents when the burning of Black churches was used as an intimidation tactic during the civil rights era. Attacks on Black churches, using fire and other forms of violence, have long been used to intimidate the Black community and impede progress.