Officials: La. church burning suspect may have been influenced by ‘black metal’

A man has been arrested in connection to the burning of three historically black churches

One arrested in string of church fires in rural Louisiana

ST. LANDRY PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Officials say the man arrested in connection to the burning of three historically black churches in Louisiana may have been influenced by black metal.

Holden Matthews, 21, the son of St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Roy Matthews, was arrested and charged with three counts of simple arson of a religious building. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years.

Fire Marshal: Suspect was involved in black metal

“We can now confirm all three of these fires are intentionally set and all three of these fires are related,” State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said.

The motive is still under investigation, but Browning said Matthews may have been influenced by “black metal music,” which has been associated with church burnings.

Black metal is an aggressive, fast-tempo, heavily distorted sub-genre of heavy metal music with origins in Scandinavia. In the early 1990s, a rash of church arsons in Norway by fans of the music were described by leaders of the movement as acts of protest against Christianity ruling over a country rooted in Paganism.

Holden Matthews, 21, accused of intentionally setting fire to three churches in St. Landry Parish (Source: Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal)
Holden Matthews, 21, accused of intentionally setting fire to three churches in St. Landry Parish (Source: Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal)

A spokesperson for the FBI says Matthews’ father was heartbroken when he found out his son had been identified as the suspect. Officials say Matthews had no prior arrests and no history of violence.

Officials dispelled rumors that Matthews’ father had turned him in to authorities, saying this arrest was made possible by “old-fashioned boots on the ground law enforcement,” and the hard work of several agencies involved.

“I don’t know what this young man’s motive, I don’t know what was in his heart ... but it cannot be justified,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

Fire District #3 repsonded to a fire at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church on Hwy 182 in Opelousas. (Source: LOSFM)
Fire District #3 repsonded to a fire at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church on Hwy 182 in Opelousas. (Source: LOSFM)

The churches were empty at the time of each fire and no one was hurt.

Earlier this week, the NAACP said the church burnings were “domestic terrorism,” targeting people because of their skin color and faith. Browning said the FBI will lead any investigations into a possible motive of hate.

Governor John Bel Edwards says they have no reason to believe these fires were related to another church in Caddo Parish.

BACKSTORY:

The fires began on March 26, when St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre burned to the ground.

A second church fire within St. Landry Parish happened a week later on Tuesday, April 2, at the Greater Union Baptist Church.

On Thursday, April 4, Fire District #3 responded to a fire at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church on Highway 182 in Opelousas.

Governor John Bel Edwards has released a statement about the fires:

“Our churches are sacred, central parts of our communities and everyone should feel safe in their place of worship. 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. I have directed the State Fire Marshal to work with local law enforcement to aggressively investigate the cause of these fires. If you have any information that may help determine who or what caused these blazes, you may submit tips anonymously by calling the Arson Hotline at 1-800-256-5452. In times like these, it is important for us to remember the words from John 15:12: ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’ I’m asking the people of Louisiana to follow this teaching and join their prayers to mine as we love and support these congregations.”
Governor John Bel Edwards

The ACLU of Louisiana also released a statement on the fires:

"This string of suspicious church fires, including three in St. Landry Parish alone, is deeply disturbing and a reminder of the violence that people of color continue to face across the South. Black churches have long been targets of racial terrorism, and recent years have seen a steady rise in white supremacist violence. While the investigation into the cause of the fires continues, it’s on all of us to speak out against hate and intolerance and stand in solidarity with the communities affected by these tragedies.”

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