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Deputy’s Son Charged With 3 Hate Crimes In La. Church Burnings

By NJG Staff

The son of a St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s deputy has been charged with three hate crimes, one for each of the Black churches he’s accused of burning down in St. Landry Parish.
According to news reports, Matthews, a 21-year-old man from St. Landry Parish, which is located about an hour west of Baton Rouge, was arrested on April 10 and will face three hate crime counts. Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said both physical evidence from the crime scenes and technological evidence confirmed Matthews as a suspect.

At a news conference on April 11, Sheriff Bobby Guidroz disputed reports that Matthews’ father turned his son in. Guidroz also said the father knew nothing of his son’s involvement in the fires. At the news conference, Browning said the threat to the community “is gone now.” He also called the fires “an attack on our God and our religion.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, “These were evil acts.”

The historically African-American churches were burned down within a span of 10 days in St. Landry Parish. The fires began on March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre followed by Greater Union Baptist on April 2, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on April 4.

The churches were empty at the time of each fire and no one was hurt.

The NAACP said the church burnings were “domestic terrorism,” targeting people because of their skin color and faith.

Attacks on African-American churches have long been used as a way to intimidate people of color. Though police in Saint Landry Parish have heightened security at nearby churches, parishioners have not stopped their Sunday worship and all the pastors said they will rebuild.

The fires began on March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre followed by Greater Union Baptist on April 2 and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on April 4.

“There’s still people that need to be helped, there’s still ministry that has to be done, so we can’t let this setback stop us from doing what God has initially called us to do,” said Pastor Kyle Sylvester of St. Mary’s Baptist Church.

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Florence Milburn, a member of the Greater Union Baptist Church, said in a recent interview with NPR, that she immediately went to her church after receiving news of the fire.

“My husband and I drove over there along with our other family members, and along with our church family, we were on site and we watched our church burn to the ground,” she said.

The FBI and ATF have been assisting local police with the investigation.

A GoFundMe with a goal of $1.8 million was set up by the Seventh District Baptist Association to raise money for church repairs. The campaign has already raised more than $200,000 in just five days.

You can learn more here and GoFundMe: Seventh District Baptist Church Fires St. Landry.

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