The son of a police deputy has been arrested as the suspect in three fires at black churches in southern Louisiana, officials say.
Holden Matthews, 21, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with three counts of arson on religious buildings. The burnings did not result in deaths or injuries, but evoked painful memories of the civil rights era.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said the “evil acts” dredged up “a very dark past of intimidation and fear”. The Democrat said the alleged arson was perpetrated by a “depraved individual”, adding: “Hate is not a Louisiana value.”
St Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said Mr Matthews’ father, sheriff’s deputy Roy Matthews, “knew nothing about his son’s activity” and “broke down” when he was informed. The deputy then helped facilitate his son’s arrest by getting him to an area where police could detain him “without incident”, Sheriff Guidroz said.
The fire marshal said investigators are vetting “several motives”, but had learned Mr Matthews was involved with a type of music known as black metal that, he added, had historical associations with church burnings. His Facebook page lists him as the lead singer and songwriter of a heavy metal band called Vodka Vultures.
The fires took place in Opelousas (population 16,000) on 26 March, 2 April and 4 April. The suspect lives in the community. St Mary Baptist Church, the Greater Union Baptist Church and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church were razed by the conflagrations.
The FBI is now investigating whether the incidents were “bias-motivated”, but would not comment further.
Rev Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, speaking on behalf of the targeted churches, said the future was “bright” as the difficult time brought the community together in new ways.