April 10, investigators arrested 21-year-old Holden Matthews, who was turned in by his father, Deputy Roy Matthews. Not much is known about him, but CBS News reports that social media accounts that appear to belong to Matthew reveal an interest in black metal music, and that he was the lead singer for the band Vodka Vultures. Per the Daily Beast, on Facebook, Matthews commented on two memes about the far-right metal musician Varg Vikernes, though neither of his comments revealed much about his beliefs.
On April 11, State Fire Marshal Butch Browning told reporters that Matthews had been charged with three counts of simple arson on a religious building, each of which carry a maximum penalty of 15 years. Furthermore, he confirmed that all three fires were “intentionally set” and related.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who called the blazes a reminder of “a very dark past of intimidation and fear.”
“I don’t know what this young man’s motive was, I don’t know what was in his heart, but I can say it cannot be justified or rationalized,” Edwards told reporters. “These were evil acts. But let me be clear about this, hate is not a Louisiana value.”
Matthews is charged with three counts of simple arson on a religious building, State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years. The suspect has no history of violence or prior arrests, officials said.
“We can not confirm all three of these fires are intentionally set, and all three of these fires are related.” Browinging said.
St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre burned on March 26, followed by Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2 and, two days later, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the same town.
The charred remains of a Scepter – branded, two-gallon gas can ultimately led investigators to Matthews, according to a court affidavit. A pickup truck believed to have been driven by the suspect was captured by surveillance cameras leaving the parking lot of Greater Union Baptist Church moments before it went up in flames.
Matthews was first considered a suspect Wednesday morning, and investigators quickly obtained an arrest warrant to pick him up later that day.
“We saw an immediate threat to public safety,” Browning said. “We felt that other crimes were imminent. The Threat is now gone.”
The motive is still under investigation, and federal officials are looking into a possible connection with a genre of music called ‘black metal’ and it’s associated history with church burnings in other parts of the world — which have been documented in movies and books,” Browning said. “Any questions as to the potential motives of hate are continuing to be vetted by federal authorities.”
On the day that authorities said Matthews allegedly set fire to the Greater Union Baptis Church in Opelousas, he wrote on Facebook, “I’ll take Arson/assassin/bard” when a a group memeber asked people to choose between wizard, fighter, sniper, assassin, gaurdian and warrior.
“Matthews is the son of a local sherriff’s deputy,” Landry Parish Sheriff, Bobby Guidroz said. Sheriff Guidroz said that he broke the news of Matthew’s alleged involvement to the deputy, whom he describes as one of his best friends.
“As we all know, Holden’s father is an employee of mine, a fine man,” Guidroz said. “He was shocked and hurt as any father would be. He was in terrible shape.”
Holden Matthews was booked into the St. Landry Parish Jail on three counts of arson.
CNN’s Josh Campbell, and Samira Said reported from Opelousas, Ray Sanchez from New York and CNN’s Paul P. Murphy and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.