Holden Matthews is in custody in connection with three recent fires at historically black churches in Louisiana, KATC-TV reports. Investigators have said previously that they believe the fires were intentionally set. Matthews, 21, is the son of a St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy.
During a press conference, officials said that Matthews’ actions might have been connected to a genre of music called black metal and its history with church burnings, but they were not certain of a motive. Matthews did not have a criminal record. Holden Matthews is charged with three counts of simple arson on a religious building. Each charge has a maximum penalty of 15 years. A hate crimes investigation by federal authorities is continuing.
Matthews and his father could not immediately be reached for comment by Heavy and it is not clear if he has hired an attorney. The investigation into the fires has been led by the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s office, along with local, state and federal investigators, including the FBI and ATF.
The three fires were set at black churches at the end of March and early April. No one was injured during the fires. Police said they were aware of the history of hate crimes against black churches, including a series of fires set in the 1990s, and would do everything in their power to identify the perpetrator.
Here is what we know so far about Holden Matthews and the fires:
1. Holden Matthews Was Arrested April 10 & Is the Son of St. Landry Parish Deputy Roy Matthews
Holden Matthews is in custody in connection with the fires, KATC-TV reported. Matthews is the son of St. Landry Parish Deputy Roy Matthews, according to family member’s Facebook pages.
According to St. Landry Parish Jail records, Matthews was booked into custody at 5:32 p.m. It is not known if investigators have determined a motive for the fires.
Because of the small window among these three fires, officials were concerned the fires might be racially motivated. The three fires were labeled as suspicious early on, CNN reported, but it wasn’t known exactly what the cause was or if they were connected. Investigators did say on April 9 that they believed the three fires were intentionally set.
In a statement, Lousiana State Fire Marshall H. “Butch” Browning said about the fires: “There is clearly something happening in this community. That’s why it’s imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is.” He said in a press conference, before anyone was in custody, that they identified patterns which might link the three fires.
“We’re very cognizant that there’s a problem and there is no coincidence there were three fires.”
2. Holden Matthews’ Father Did Not Turn Him in to the Authorities, But He Did Help Facilitate His Son’s Arrest. Three Historically Black Churches in Lousiana Were Destroyed.
CBS News reported that Matthews’ father turned him in to the authorities and said a gas can clued his father in to his son’s involvement, which Heavy shared in this article.
However, the next day KATC reported that these early rumors were not correct. St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said that Roy Matthews did not turn his son in to deputies. However, he did help facilitate his son’s arrest, CBS News noted. St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said the father “helped facilitate the arrest, he got hte suspect away from the home.”
His dad did not, however, have any knowledge of his son’s activities. Guidroz said, “He was shocked and hurt as any father would be… He was in terrible shape.”
Three historically black churches were destroyed in the fires, NPR reported. The three fires happened in just a 10-day span. The fires were in Lousiana’s St. Landry Parish, north of Lafayette.
The fires were at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, and St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. St. Mary was the first, catching fire on March 26 at 3:40 a.m. on the 100 block of Saqueget Road in Port Barre. Most of the church was destroyed in the fire, with only part of the brick exterior left behind.
Greater Union Baptist Church caught fire on April 2 and Mt. Pleasant caught fire on April 4, Essence reported. The Greater Union fire in the 1400 block of Hwy 742 in Opelousa was reported around 1:45 a.m. Firefighters quickly realized the church couldn’t be saved, according to KATC-TV. Rev. Harry Richard said he felt like there was no hope when he saw the church in flames.
The third fire at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, in the 3900 block of Highway 182, destroyed a church that had existed for more than 140 years. Rev. Gerald Toussaint told The Daily Advertiser: “By the time I got back here, it was gone. My church has a lot of history. I don’t understand it. What could make a person do that to a church?”
3. Matthews Is From Opelousas, Louisiana, & Says on Facebook He Is the Singer in a Band
On Facebook, Holden Matthews says he is from Opelousas, Louisiana, and now lives in Leonville, Louisiana. He also says on his Facebook page that he is the lead singer and songwriter of a band called Vodka Vultures.
Little other information is known about Matthews so far, including whether he has a previous criminal record. Matthews has two siblings, a brother and a sister, according to his mother’s Facebook page. His father has been a deputy in St. Landry Parish for several years.
Daily Beast noted that on Facebook, Matthews had commented on two memes about Varg Vikernes, a self-described former neo-Nazi metal musician. Vikernes was in prison for 15 years for burning down three Christian Norway churches and fatally stabbing another guitarist. Vikernes claimed the stabbing was in self-defense and denied the arsons, but said he supported them. He moved to France with his wife and children after he was released from prison and announced the end of his one-man music project in 2018.
4. He Was a Member of Several Facebook Groups Where He Talked about Philosophy & Commented Once About History Being Burned. He Also Said That He ‘Loves Learning About Other Cultures and Faiths.’
Heavy searched through the public comments still listed for some of the group that Holden Matthews was part of on Facebook and did not find any argumentative or overtly political posts, although he wrote a lot about philosophical topics and his religious beliefs.
One of the groups he was in is called Followers of the Old Way. The group’s description reads “No Racisme ** No Hating No Porn ** No nazi stuff No Selfies ** No Religion Bashing at all. Blocking and admin = out of the group No advertising or promote of any kind. No politics debates at all. Breaking the rules results in ban.”
His last post in that group was February 12 when he asked “Anyone else here follow rokkatru?” Rokkatru is a type of paganism. For the most part, he participated in philosophical discussions. When someone said they thought they would only go to Valhalla if they died in combat, he wrote: “I’m pretty sure you don’t HAVE to die in combat to go,Ragnar didn’t and many ultra skilled warriors didn’t because they were good at what they did but many were destined to also become leaders after war so I’m pretty sure there’s still a chance of Valhalla for survivor warriors.”
When someone in the group wrote 10 weeks ago: “Contemplating our early existence often sends me into deep thoughts on so many different levels … Loving the stuff in this group as it enriches my many deep thoughts… Thank you all,” Holden Matthews responded: “And then a lot of the history that was written…..was burned.”
Specifically regarding his own faith, he said that his faith is “in Asatru” but he loves learning about cultures and faiths, especially Polynesian. In a later post, he wrote about how all gods and humans have their light and dark sides. He wrote once about needing to put down a baby chick at his workplace that sold live chickens because it was screaming and in pain from a disease. And at times he posted encouraging notes to others or self-deprecating jokes.
He also posted in Facebook pages for Black Metal Artist groups, mostly just commenting on music he liked and artists.
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said about Matthews’ motivation: “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. Any questions as to the potential motives of hate are continuing to be vetted by federal authorities.”
5. Hundreds of Years of History Was Lost in the Fires, but No One Was Injured. A Fourth Fire Was Intentionally Set at a Predominantly White Church Three Hours North, But It’s Not Known if It Was Related.
There were no deaths or injuries in the fires, but the churches were extensively damaged. Florence Milburn of Greater Union Baptist Church told NPR that she heard about the fire at 2:30 a.m. When she and her husband got there, they watched their church burn to the ground. Greater Union was going to celebrate its 130th anniversary in July.
Rick Swanson, a professor and civil rights researcher with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, told The Acadiana Advocate: “it would be very consistent with a pattern of terrorism used against black churches” if the St. Landry Parish fires were hate crimes.
A fourth fire was also set at Vivian United Pentecostal Church on March 31. This fire was at a predominantly white church about three hours north in Caddo Parish, NPR reported. It’s not yet known if this fire was related because the first three fires were just miles away from one another, but officials do know that this fire was set intentionally, CNN reported. So far officials have not found a connection between the fourth fire and the other three.
On Tuesday, the FBI joined the investigation, Essence reported. The next day, officials announced that a person was in custody in connection with the fires. All three fires were labeled as suspicious. In total, about 100 people were involved in the investigation, CNN shared, including 40 state and 40 federal employees.
Because the first three fires were so close, pastors and members of other churches in the area were fearful of being targets. Rev. Dwight Brown told CNN that his church was directly between two of them, so he slept at the church two nights in a row. “I wasn’t going to sit there and let it burn down. It’s 130 years of history. I couldn’t take that chance,” he said.