Louisiana officials are looking into the suspect’s connection to black metal, a music genre they described as being associated with church burnings.
The 21-year-old son of a St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s deputy is the only suspect thought to be responsible for the burning of three predominantly black churches, and his interests in black metal music and pagan gods is of interest in the case, authorities said Thursday.
Holden Matthews, son of Deputy Roy Matthews, was arrested Wednesday and charged with three counts of simple arson of a religious building in connection with the church burnings that took place over 10 days. Once probable cause, including surveillance video, connected the younger Matthews to the crime, he was arrested within about 12 hours, State Fire Marshall Butch Browning said.
“This community is safe again,” Browning said. “We are extremely and unequivocally confident we have the person who is responsible for these tragic crimes.”
The arrest affidavit for Matthews shows investigators tied him to the crimes through surveillance video that showed a truck registered to his father at the fires, the purchase of a gas can and cell phone tower data.
“I don’t know what was in his heart,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said of Matthews at a news conference announcing the arrest. “But I can tell you it can’t be justified or rationalized.”
Edwards said it’s not clear what the motive is in the case, but State Fire Marshall Butch Browning said authorities are investigating Matthews’ involvement in black metal, a music genre he described as being associated with church burnings in other parts of the world.
Matthews notes on his Facebook page that he’s a songwriter and lead singer for a band called Vodka Vultures. A photo of him holding a guitar shows a sign behind him with “Black Metal” spray-painted on it.
Black metal bands gained attention in the early 1990s, with many openly opposing Christianity or modern religions in general. Members of black metal bands were convicted in a series of Christian church fires in Norway after dozens of churches were targeted in the first half of the decade, according to the 1998 book “Lords of Chaos” by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind.
Matthews once described making a “life offering” to the Norse goddess Hel, who oversees part of the underworld in Norse mythology. In Facebook posts made earlier this year, he displays altars made for the Norse gods Hel and Odin, the divine patron of outlaws in Norse mythology.
In an October post, Matthews shows off a handgun and knife which he claims to carry “maybe not legally.”
“I only truly follow the law of Odin,” the post reads.
Neighbors said Thursday that authorities were seen at Matthews’ home this week, confiscating items, including cellphones and computers.
Matthews was denied bond and a hearing is scheduled for May 2.
Roy Matthews declined to comment Thursday when approached at his home. He has been with the sheriff’s office for more than 10 years and serves court papers, a sheriff’s office spokesman said.
“He’s a fine man,” St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said of the elder Matthews. “But it tells you, and it should tell the country, that no matter who you are there are consequences for the things you do.”
Guidroz informed Roy Matthews this week that his son was the suspect in the fires. He said Roy Matthews “knew nothing” of his son’s activity related to the crimes.
“He was shocked and hurt, as any father would be,” Guidroz said.
Authorities have released few other details in the case, including where Matthews was arrested or how they knew the fires were connected.
Seven fire investigators from the Florida Department of Financial Services came to assist Louisiana authorities as they investigate the St. Landry Parish church fires. The team offered its assistance as a way to “pay it forward,” said Louisiana state fire marshal spokeswoman Ashley Rodrigue..
St. Mary Baptist Church, which is in Port Barre, was the first church that burned in a fire early in the morning on March 26. The Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas burned down a week later. On April 4, a fire destroyed Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on Highway 182 south of Opelousas.
The churches and their congregations are relieved that police have a suspect in custody, said Greater Union pastor Rev. Harry Richard. Now, the church is looking to move forward.
“I’ve forgiven him already,” he said. “I’m ready to heal right now. I’m ready to go back to normal if that’s possible. We’re gonna need all the help that we can get.”
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