Report: 21-year-old man in custody after string of church fires in St. Landry Parish – WBRZ
OPELOUSAS – A series of fires that destroyed churches with predominantly African-American congregations has drawn the ire of the NAACP, and one person is now reportedly in custody in connection with the fires.
On Monday, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People released a statement condemning the fires in central Louisiana, as well as similar incidents in Tennessee.
“What is happening in Tennessee and Louisiana is domestic terrorism and we must not turn a blind eye to any incident where people are targeted because of the color of their skin or their faith. The spike in church burnings in Southern states is a reflection of the emboldened racial rhetoric and tension spreading across the country. But this is nothing new. For decades, African American churches have served as the epicenter of survival and a symbol of hope for many in the African-American community. As a consequence, these houses of faith have historically been the targets of violence. The NAACP stands vigilant to ensure that authorities conduct full investigations,” the statement read.
According to fire investigators, arson is likely the cause of the blaze that destroyed the 140-year-old Mount Pleasant Baptist Church and two others in the St. Landry Parish area. The first burned March 26 in Port Barre, and another church burned in Opelousas earlier in the week.
KATC reports that 21-year-old Holden Matthews was taken into custody by law enforcement on Wednesday.
Photo of Holden Matthews via KATC
A state fire marshal spokesperson would not confirm an arrest but told WBRZ a news conference will be held in Opelousas Thursday morning to discuss developments in the investigation. Gov. Edwards is scheduled to be in attendance, along with FBI agents.
“You’ve got to have a certain degree of anger, because there’s no reason for this,” Deacon Earnest Hines told WBRZ. “You know the history of our country. During the civil rights struggle, they had all these incidents that would happen and sometimes that happens again.”
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning says last week all three fires are similar and suspicious. But he added that investigators are still working to conclusively determine if they are connected.
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