OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) — Authorities have arrested 21-year-old Holden Matthews in connection with suspicious fires at three historic black churches in southern Louisiana, a federal prosecutor said.

Local station KATC, confirmed Matthews is the son of a St. Landry Parish deputy. Matthews was booked at the St. Landry Parish jail around 5:30 last evening and despite initial rumors, the St. Landry Parish deputy did not turn his son into authorities. U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph said in a statement that federal agents stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims of “these despicable acts.”

The statement read in full, “A suspect has been identified in connection with the three church burnings in Opelousas, Louisiana, and is in state custody. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, ATF, and FBI are working with state and local law enforcement and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the victims and those St. Landry Parish residents affected by these despicable acts. A special thanks to St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz, Louisiana State Fire Marshal, H. “Butch” Browning Jr., Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s Cybercrime Unit, the Louisiana State Police, and the Florida State Fire Marshal for working seamlessly with federal law enforcement agents in this investigation.”

A Thursday news conference at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office is planned.

Black Churches
Firefighters and fire investigators respond to a fire at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church Thursday, April 4, 2019, in Opelousas, La. Authorities in southern Louisiana are investigating a string of “suspicious” fires at three African American churches in recent days. Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said it wasn’t clear whether the fires in St. Landry Parish are connected and he declined to get into specifics of what the investigation had yielded so far but described the blazes as “suspicious.” (Leslie Westbrook/The Advocate via AP)

The first fire torched the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre last month. Days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were burned. Each was more than 100 years old, with mostly African American congregations.

The churches were empty at the time of the fires, and no one was injured.

Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning, who declared all three fires suspicious, said “If you’re going to turn to a house of God, turn to it for resurrection.”

The investigation was joined by the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and many people from state agencies in Louisiana.

The Rev. Harry Richard of Greater Union Baptist Church told the Advocate newspaper last week that he didn’t want people to panic or leap to conclusions while investigators were doing their work.

“I don’t know who’s doing it or why they’re doing it, but I don’t want to be the one to inject race into it,” he said.

“It’s like the ’60s again,” said Earnest Hines, a deacon at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church — the site of the last fire.

“I don’t know why this happened, and we don’t need to jump to conclusions,” said Hines, a member of the church for more than 40 years. “We need to let them investigate, let the evidence come out.”

“I’m very proud of the investigative effort that has lead to this arrest. I’m prayerful that we can close this horrific chapter and begin to heal,” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) said in a statement sent to KATC.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

21-Year-Old Suspect Arrested in ‘Suspicious’ Fires at Historic Black Churches Identified as Son of Local Deputy

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