The Latest: Friend says suspect not a racist (Timeline of events)

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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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10:30 a.m.

St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz says the father of the suspect arrested in the fires at three black Louisiana churches is a deputy in his department.

Holden Matthews is a 21-year-old white man who’s been arrested in the fires and faces three counts of simple arson of a religious building.

At a news conference, Sheriff Guidroz disputed reports that Matthews’ father turned his son in. Guidroz also said the suspect’s father knew nothing of his son’s involvement in the fires.

The first fire torched the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre last month. Days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were burned. Each was more than 100 years old, with mostly black congregations.

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

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10:15 a.m.

Authorities say they’re investigating hate as a motive in the fires at three black churches in southern Louisiana.

The suspect has been identified as Holden Matthews, a 21-year-old white man.

At a Thursday news conference, State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said the threat to the community “is gone now.” He also called the fires “an attack on our God and our religion.”

The first fire torched the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre last month. Days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were burned. Each was more than 100 years old, with mostly black congregations.

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

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10:05 a.m.

The suspect arrested in a string of fires at historically black churches in southern Louisiana has been identified as a 21-year-old white man.

According to a news release, Holden Matthews faces three counts of simple arson of a religious building.

At a news conference, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said “these were evil acts.”

The first fire torched the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre last month. Days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were burned. Each was more than 100 years old, with mostly black congregations.

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

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5:25 a.m.

U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph says authorities have arrested a person in connection with suspicious fires at three historic black churches in Louisiana.

Joseph announced late Wednesday that the suspect is in state custody, and said federal agents stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims of “these despicable acts.” A Thursday press conference at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office is planned.

The first fire torched the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre last month. Days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were burned. Each was more than 100 years old, with mostly black congregations.

The churches were empty at the time of the fires, and no one was injured. Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said all three were suspicious.

 

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