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St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz speaks during a news conference to address an arrest made in the burning of three historically black Baptist churches recently in St. Landry Parish on Thursday, April 11, 2019, at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Training Center in Opelousas, La. A mugshot of the suspect, Holden Matthews, is displayed at top right during the news conference.

Holden Matthews, a 21-year-old Opelousas man, was arrested Wednesday in connection with fires that burned down three historically black Baptist churches in a 10-day span in Louisiana's St. Landry Parish. 

Local, state and federal investigators detailed Matthews' arrest Thursday morning at a news conference shedding light on how Matthews' allegedly set the churches on fire and what might have driven him to do it. 

Here's what we know so far about Matthews, the investigation into the church burnings and more:


Who is Holden Matthews? 

Matthews is the son of St. Landry Parish Sheriff's deputy Roy Matthews. His father was "shocked and hurt" when he found out his son was a suspect in the fires, Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said, but was not involved in the investigation. He also brought Holden to a neutral location Wednesday so officers could apprehend him.

Officials said Matthews did not resist arrest, and Guidroz said he has no known history of violence or prior arrests. Investigators, do however, say they "felt other crimes were imminent," but declined to share specifics.

Matthews is said to have an association with "black metal," a Norwegian music genre connected to multiple church burnings and anti-Christian values, according to officials. He is reportedly a bassist and his Facebook profile lists him as the lead singer/songwriter of a band called the "Vodka Vultures" since August 2018.

Matthews also showed an interest in Norse mythology, posting in various Facebook groups on the topic. In one post, he details an alleged visit by Hel, the Norse goddess of death, after performing an unspecified "sacrifice."

Read more about Matthews here.

See some of Matthews' Facebook posts here.


How was Matthews caught? Suspicious purchase helps link suspect to fires

Sales records, video footage and cell tower data were used by authorities to identify Matthews as a probable suspect early Wednesday and arrested him within 12 hours. 

A crucial piece of evidence was a red Scepter-branded gas can found among the debris at the scene of the April 4 fire at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, according to Matthews' arrest warrant.

Officials said Matthews used his debit card and ID to purchase that brand of gas can, a 10 pack of automotive shop towels and a lighter around March 25.

He was seen driving around in a gold-colored Ford pickup truck with a bed cover the day of the purchase, and a similar truck was seen in video footage at two of the churches shortly before and after the fires were reported to 911. 

His cell phone GPS records also showed him in proximity of the March 26 fire at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, the April 2 fire at Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas and the April 4 fire.  

Read more about how Matthews' was traced to the fires here.


What happens next for Matthews?

Matthews was arrested on three counts of simple arson of a religious building, Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. "Butch" Browning said at Thursday's news conference. Each count carries a maximum 15-year penalty.

A judge denied bond for Matthews and instead a bond hearing has been set for May 2, court records show.

Read more about the case against Matthews here.


What does Norwegian Black Metal have to do with the fires?

Police have not provided an official motive for Matthews' alleged crimes, but said a "hate motive" is being investigated.

They did, however, suggest Matthews' interest in the "black metal" music scene could be linked to the case, saying the genre is "associated with church burnings."

What authorities are likely referencing is one of the genre's most notorious figures, Norwegian bass player Varg Vikernes. Vikernes was part of the band Mayhem, which helped to expand the genre's fan base in the late 1980s and was later arrested and accused of setting a string of church fires in Norway, as well as killing one of his bandmates. 

Vikernes' contributions to the rise of black metal and his alleged role in the church burnings were featured in the 2018 horror-thriller film Lords of Chaos. Matthews posted several comments on Facebook referencing the movie, but his posts did not indicate if he was endorsing the extremist beliefs Vikernes has come to represent.

Some fans, however, have taken issue with the law enforcement and media attention devoted to Matthews' musical tastes, with many posting comments saying the emphasis on his black metal fandom serves to "unfairly scapegoat" the genre.

Read more on Matthews' interest in black metal here.


What's the community's reaction to Matthews' arrest?

Pastors of the churches that were burned down said they feel relieved that Matthews has been apprehended, but also would like to see Matthews turn his troubles to God in the aftermath of the fires. 

The Rev. Gerald Toussaint, of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, and the Rev. Harry Richard, of Greater Union Baptist Church, said they can sleep soundly now that their churches are out of harm's way and both will focus on rebuilding their communities and ensuring their congregants feel supported.

"I just thank God that it's over," Toussaint said after the news conference. "Our church can rebuild and get back to our work. It's been some sleepless nights. Now we can finally rest for a little while."

The three targeted churches have been active in the community for over 100 years, and families worshipped in the buildings for generations. Congregants at several churches said they’ve never worshipped anywhere else, and they’re struggling to grasp that a source of solace and constancy in their lives is gone.

“All the work that’s been put into that and the history that it has … it was heartbreaking,” Toussaint said following the fire at his church on April 3. “But just because you burn a building doesn’t mean you can destroy the church."

Richard said he doesn’t know what inspired Matthews to attack his church, but he urged him to turn his troubles to God and allow the Holy Spirit to lead him.

“I would just like to ask him why he would do such a thing. I don’t know his motives,” Richard said. “I would like to see his heart and talk to him and let him express to me what it is that I’ve done, or anyone in our churches have done, to cause the pain or whatever it is he’s feeling toward us that he would do such a thing.”

Toussaint also said he was pleased with the law enforcement response to the arsons.

“Lately, law enforcement has been given a black eye but today it showed that they are real, and they’re good, and they supported and helped us. Many of them didn’t have to, but they did,” he said. 


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