OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) — Prosecutors have now added hate crime charges against the white suspect in three recent arson fires that destroyed African American churches in Louisiana.

Twenty-one-year-old Holden Matthews pleaded not guilty at a Monday court hearing. He was ordered to be held without bond.

Three black churches were torched in 10 days. Two were in the city of Opelousas. Another was in a nearby town.

Matthews is the son of a St. Landry Parish sheriff's deputy. He was arrested Wednesday on three charges of arson of a religious building. The three additional hate crimes charges — one for each blaze — were added Monday.

Authorities at Monday's hearing also outlined a litany of new evidence that prosecutors say ties Matthews to the crimes.

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Holden Matthews said black Baptist parishioners were "brainwashed people" in newly-discovered social media posts. The comments were first reported by The Advocate. friends of Matthews confirmed the second, secret Facebook page belonged to him. In a press conference last week, authorities spoke about his involvement in "black metal music". This movement has been blamed for church fires in other parts of the world.

St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Office

Read last week's coverage from KPEL in the story below.

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OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) — The Latest on fires at black churches in Louisiana. (all times local):

6:30 p.m.

A friend of the suspect in a recent string of church burnings in Louisiana says the 21-year-old was an introverted, aspiring musician who never showed any sign of destructive anger or racism.

Nygyl Bryyn is a self-described music entrepreneur and a native of the Opelousas area where three African American churches were burned in 10 days. Bryyn says suspect Holden Matthews contacted him years ago, hoping to sign with his Power Back Productions label.

Bryyn says Matthews had long been upset with his parents for not supporting his musical efforts. He also says Matthews had been discouraged in recent months as Bryyn said he needed to improve the quality of his recordings. But Bryyn says he doesn't believe Matthews was a racist or an arsonist.

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12:55 p.m.

Court documents say investigators used video footage, cellphone tracking and a Walmart receipt to help identify the man they believed set fire to three black churches in Louisiana.

Holden Matthews, a 21-year-old white man, was arrested Wednesday in St. Landry Parish.

The affidavit filed with Matthews' arrest warrant says a gas can recovered at one of the burned churches was sold at Walmart locations and the company's investigators found that the same type of gas can, along with a lighter, were bought March 25 in Opelousas. Documents say the debit card used to buy the items belonged to Matthews.

The affidavit says "the purchase time on this receipt is less than three hours before the first church fire was reported."

The document also says GPS tracking through cellphone tower data shows Matthews was in the area of all three church fires.

The documents say Matthews has been denied bond.

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UPDATE: Records indicate that a judge has denied bond for fire suspect, Holden Matthews.

A bond hearing is set for May 2.

 

 

UPDATE: OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) — The Latest on fires at black churches in Louisiana. (all times local):

12:55 p.m.

Court documents say investigators used video footage, cellphone tracking and a Walmart receipt to help identify the man they believed set fire to three black churches in Louisiana.

Holden Matthews, a 21-year-old white man, was arrested Wednesday in St. Landry Parish.

The affidavit filed with Matthews' arrest warrant says a gas can recovered at one of the burned churches was sold at Walmart locations and the company's investigators found that the same type of gas can, along with a lighter, were bought March 25 in Opelousas. Documents say the debit card used to buy the items belonged to Matthews.

The affidavit says "the purchase time on this receipt is less than three hours before the first church fire was reported."

The document also says GPS tracking through cellphone tower data shows Matthews was in the area of all three church fires.

The documents say Matthews has been denied bond.

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10:10am Update: State Fire Marshal Chief Butch Browning says, the "community is safe again" with the arrest of 21-year-old Holden Matthews.

Fire Marshal Butch Browning says multiple agencies teamed up with "boots on the ground" to get to the bottom of the fires.

Browning says the investigation is ongoing as they are working to obtain more information, but he says that he can't thank the churches enough for all of the information that they provided to law enforcement.

WATCH the press conference BY CLICKING BELOW:

Governor John Bel Edwards is in Opelousas this morning as the State Fire Marshal's office details its investigation into fires at three black churches. The press conference is being held at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Complex.

St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said that Roy Matthews, the father of the suspect, is one of his best deputies. Guidroz says that his deputy did not know anything about these crimes.

Guidroz says deputy Roy Matthews was stunned when learning his son was the suspect, and when the Sheriff relayed that news to him, the father hung his head.

The father helped to facilitate the process of getting the suspect out of his home, so that police could arrest Holden Matthews without incident.

Law enforcement said they had "extraordinary probable cause" to arrest the suspect. They also say that by making the arrest as quickly as possible, they do believe they prevented other possible crimes.

Part of the team is looking into past fires in Opelousas, but they do not believe those incidents are related to these fires.

 

There are a variety of law enforcement officials and public officials who are on hand for this morning's press conference including the following:

  • -Governor John Bel Edwards
  • -Chief H. "Butch" Browning, Louisiana State Fire Marshal
  • -Dana Nichols, ATF-New Orleans Field Division Special Agent In Charge
  • -Eric J. Rommal, FBI-New Orleans Field Office Special Agent In Charge
  • -Sheriff Bobby Guidroz, St. Landry Parish
  • -Pastor Gerald Toussaint, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church

From Wednesday, April 10th:

Multiple law enforcement sources confirmed to KATC that one person is in custody for the recent string of fires. Sources say the suspect is 21-year-old Holden Matthews. He is also reportedly the son of a St. Landry Parish Sheriff's deputy.

KATC also reports, he was booked at around 5:30 this evening into the St. Landry Parish jail. The state fire marshal has announced a press conference to be held at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's complex. Governor Edwards is due to attend the press conference.

We will have full coverage tomorrow on KPEL and KPEL965.com.