Deputy sheriff's son charged in connection with string of fires at historically black churches in Louisiana

Arrest announced in Louisiana church arsons

Last Updated Apr 11, 2019 11:51 AM EDT

Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that the suspect's father, Deputy Roy Matthews, turned his son in. In a press conference Thursday morning, St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said that report was incorrect. Sheriff Guidroz said the suspect's father "helped facilitate the arrest, he got the suspect away from home" and had "no knowledge" of his son's activities.

Police arrested the 21-year-old son of a sheriff's deputy in connection to fires at three historically black churches in one Louisiana Parish in just 10 days. The fires were devastating to the St. Landry Parish community.

Investigators arrested suspect Holden Matthews Wednesday evening. He was charged Thursday morning with three counts of simple arson of a religious building.The maximum penalty for each counts is 15 years in prison.

Matthews' social media shows he had an interest in black metal music and is the lead singer for a band called Vodka Vultures. Records show Matthews lives in Saint Landry Parish, where the churches burned just a few miles apart. Police have not yet revealed a motive. 

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.

Attacks on black churches have long been used as a way to intimidate the black community, most notably during the civil rights era. Though police in Saint Landry Parish have heightened security at nearby churches, parishioners have not stopped their Sunday worship and all the pastors say they will rebuild.

The fires began on March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre followed by Greater Union Baptist on April 2 and  Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on April 4. 

 "There's still people that need to be helped, there's still ministry that has to be done, so we can't let this setback stop us from doing what God has initially called us to do," said Pastor Kyle Sylvester of St. Mary's Baptist Church.

The FBI and ATF have been assisting local police with the investigation.

Authorities say they will announce "significant updates" at a press conference Thursday morning with Louisiana's governor.