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Who is the suspect in the Louisiana black church fires?

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A suspect in arson fires at three historically black Louisiana churches is a law enforcement officer's son who may have been influenced by "black metal" music and "its associated history with church burnings," the state fire marshal said Thursday.

Posted: Apr 11, 2019 9:10 PM
Updated: Apr 11, 2019 9:10 PM

The debit card used to purchase the two-gallon gas cans hours before the first Louisiana church burned down bore the full name of the suspected arsonist -- Holden James Matthews, according to a court affidavit.

State and federal investigators obtained surveillance photos of the man who -- along with the Scepter-branded gas cans -- also purchased a 10-pack of automotive cloths and a lighter at a Walmart store in St. Landry Parish. The cashier recorded the 21-year-old suspect's birth date on the receipt, the affidavit said.

A piece of a charred gas can was discovered at one of three historically black churches in rural St. Landry Parish, west of Baton Rouge, that investigators said were intentionally torched over a 10-day span, according to the affidavit.

Not much is known at this time about Matthews. He is the son of a St. Landry Parish sheriff's deputy and may have been influenced by "black metal" music and its "associated history with church burnings," State Fire Marshal H. "Butch" Browning said. But Matthews left a long trail of clues that ultimately led to his arrest on Wednesday.

"We are extremely, unequivocally confident that we have the person who is responsible for these tragic crimes," Browning said.

A pickup truck believed to have been driven by Matthews was captured by surveillance cameras leaving the parking lot of Greater Union Baptist Church moments before it went up in flames on April 2.

The affidavit said the pickup was later captured driving by the fire scene and stopping in front of the church. A firefighter also reported seeing the pickup near the burning church, the affidavit said.

A Walmart surveillance photo showed Matthews in a similar pickup outside the store. The Walmart purchase was made late on March 25, less than three hours before the first blaze. A Ford pickup like the one Matthews was seen driving was registered to his father, Roy. The suspect's cell phone was traced to the area of the fires.

"This case was solved with boots on the ground and butts in the air," said St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz, adding that Roy Matthews helped direct his son away from his home to facilitate the arrest.

The motive for the fires is still under investigation, and federal officials are looking into whether a hate crime was committed. Matthews is charged with three counts of simple arson on a religious building.

"Information investigators have uncovered, and that Matthews has offered, suggests a possible connection with a genre of music called 'black metal' and its associated history with church burnings in other parts of the world -- which have been documented in movies and books," Browning said.

Pressed on the possible "black metal link, Browning said: "We believe there is a relation there with that. That is still being vetted. ... That is a piece that we're looking at."

Matthews was active in Facebook groups that focused on black metal and heathenism and Nordic religious beliefs, according to posts seen by CNN. In one post he wrote of his Asatru beliefs, which center around Norse gods.

In two Facebook posts in October, he appeared to admit he illegally carries a handgun -- in addition a knife and dagger.

"I carry this," he wrote with the photo of a handgun. "Maybe not legally but I only truly follow the law of Odin..... which says as you said, arm yourself."

On the day that authorities said Matthews allegedly set fire to Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, he wrote, "I'll take Arson/assassin/bard" when a group member asked people to choose between a wizard, fighter, sniper, assassin, guardian and warrior.

Guidroz, the sheriff, spoke of the difficulty of informing deputy Roy Matthews about his son's alleged involvement in the fires. The deputy broke down.

"I love Roy Matthews," Guidroz said. "Roy Matthews is one of my best friends. A great deputy. He knew nothing, nothing about his son's activity."

Guidroz said the elder Matthews, shocked and heartbroken, arranged for his son to leave the house and go to a location where he was be arrested without incident.

Asked about the suspect being the son of his deputy, Guidroz said: "That's tough. That should tell the country that no matter who you are, there are consequences to the things that you do."

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