Shock during the arrest of the son of the deputy during fires in a black church

OPELOUSAS, LA (AP) – Authorities said that he had no known criminal record. A friend described him as an introverted animal lover who showed no animosity towards any race, as well as a talented guitarist and heavy metal singer, albeit frustrated. A fellow musician called him "a really nice guy."


Suspicious fires consume 3 black churches in 10 days in a parish of Louisiana

But Holden Matthews, the 21-year-old white son of a sheriff's deputy from Louisiana, was in jail on Thursday, accused of having burned three hundred-year-old African American churches for ten days in Opelousas and the surrounding area. The city of 16,000 was ignited by flames that recalled terrorist acts perpetrated during the civil rights movement.

A fragment of carbonized gasoline can, a surveillance video capturing what appeared to be his parents' truck in key locations, debit card registrations and mobile phone tracking techniques led authorities to stop Matthews on Wednesday evening. However, even though the arrest affidavit showed how they linked Matthews to the crime, federal, regional and local authorities gathered for a press conference at the St. Landry parish sheriff's office on Thursday were not ready to discuss it.

Eric Rommal, the officer in charge of the FBI's New Orleans office, said the investigators were still trying to find out if the fires were "bias-motivated".

Matthews, who is scheduled for a bond hearing on Monday morning, had a defender at Nygyl Bryyn Blackwolf, ranked in Matthews' friends list on Facebook. Blackwolf is identified as a native of southern Louisiana, musician, entrepreneur and owner of the independent label Power Back Productions. In a phone interview Thursday in Los Angeles, he described Matthews as a talented musician, sometimes frustrated – upset in recent months after being informed that he needed to improve the quality of his recordings – but not as a racist or a musician. violent man.

"If he's making a statement, it's against religion and the establishment, not against race," he said, adding, "I do not think it's he did, but he did, it would not be because the churches are black. "

Blackwolf, 36, a native of Opelousas, said he had met Matthews after leaving his state. Matthews, who played guitar and sang, responded to an online ad while he was looking for a record deal with Power Back Productions. They worked together and met over the years. Matthews disagreed with his parents about his musical aspirations, said Blackwolf, but has never shown signs of violence or racism.

Matthews had expressed interest in "black metal", an extreme subgenre of heavy metal, said the late Marshall Butch Browning. The music was linked, in some cases, to fires in Christian churches in Norway in the 1990s.

A Facebook page that seemed to belong to Matthews showed him the words "black metal" spray painted on a wall behind him. He also published a commentary on the portrait of black metal musician Varg Vikernes, a far-right figure convicted of manslaughter and arson in three churches.

Black metal lyrics often espouse satanism and paganism, and some groups present neo-Nazi beliefs.

Blackwolf, however, insisted that the kind of black metal is not characterized by racism. He acknowledged that some, but not all, involved in black-metal music may have expressed racism, but he said it was not typical of the genre.

"We have friends from all the races," he said.

Josh Cook, a 27-year-old musician from Hammond, Louisiana, said he heard about church fires prior to Matthews' arrest and wondered if they could have been inspired by fires in church churches. Norway. He said that there was an "elitist" element of the black metal music scene fascinated by these church fires.

But he echoed Mattwolf's description of Matthews, saying the suspect was a friend of a very diverse group of people and a "good guy" who had never shown signs of racism.

"He's actually a really nice guy, that's why I was so surprised to hear what happened," Cook said. "It was not a fool. He was very tolerant. He was very loving and very encouraging.

Matthews' father, Roy Matthews, "broke down" when he learned that his son was the suspect, said Sheriff Bobby Guidroz.

Guidroz stated that the father helped the authorities by arranging for the son to leave the house and go to a place where he could be arrested without incident. He did not elaborate.

The young Matthews was arrested for three counts of arson in a religious building. A conviction could result in up to 15 years in prison for each charge, Browning said.

The fires moved many people in and around Opelousas, about 225 km northwest of New Orleans.

Governor John Bel Edwards said the fires were "particularly painful" as they recalled "a very dark past of intimidation and fear".

"This is a reflection of a depraved individual," he added. "This is not a reflection on the state of Louisiana."

An Associated Press reporter was ruled out Thursday of what was thought to be the house that the suspect had shared with his parents.

Matthews' arrest comes a little over two weeks after the first fire at St. Mary's Baptist Church on March 26 in Port Barre, a town just off Opelousas. A few days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church of Opelousas were set on fire. Everyone was over 100 years old.

The churches were empty at the time and no one was injured.

Reverend Harry Richard, pastor of the Greater Union Baptist Church, which was destroyed, said that his arrest had put him at ease and let him sleep at night.

"I felt relieved that my congregation did not have to worry anymore," said Richard, who learned of the arrest on Wednesday night. "I was reassured that law enforcement was on our side, that things were finally ending."


McGill reported from New Orleans and Opelousas. Associate Press Editors Stacey Plaisance at Opelousas and Michael Kunzelman of College Park, Maryland contributed to this report.

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