Three predominantly black churches burned in a single Louisiana parish in the span of just 10 days, and the news sent a shiver through the community that rippled out across the country. Though the cause of the fires was not immediately known, the destruction of three pillars of the area’s black community recalled dark memories of a not-that-distant past.
Now, the person who stands accused of setting the fires has not only been charged with arson, he is facing three hate-crime charges, too.
The St. Landry’s Parish district attorney, Earl Taylor, filed the charges against Holden Matthews on Monday. In Louisiana, hate crimes can constitute a litany of offenses perpetrated against an individual due to their race, sexual orientation, national origin, disability or other protected status. Taylor declined to comment on the charges.
Last week, the 21-year-old son of a local sheriff’s deputy was arrested and charged with three counts of arson for setting fires at St. Mary Baptist Church on March 26, Greater Union Baptist Church on April 2, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on April 4.
Matthews pleaded not guilty to all charges Monday during an appearance in court conducted by video conference, according to the Advocate. Prosecutors have charged him with three counts of hate crimes, two counts of simple arson and one count of aggravated arson.
At the hearing, officials said they found new photo and video evidence on Matthews’s phone placing him at the scene of all three fires, the Advocatereported. Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning testified that Matthews’s phone contained photos of the fires as they were starting, and after first responders arrived.
The photos also indicated that Matthews had returned to the crime scenes after the churches had burned to nothing but smoldering rubble, officials said, and a 10-second video is said to show him discussing the fires with a friend, and mentioning that gasoline would be an effective method of starting a blaze.
Investigators said they also found news reports about the fires on Matthews’s phone, and Browning said “he superimposed himself on these news reports claiming responsibility for these fires.”
Last Thursday, at a news conference announcing Matthews’s arrest, officials and community leaders acknowledged the emotional strain the fires had placed on St. Landry’s Parish.
“It has been especially painful because it reminds us of a very dark past of intimidation and fear,” Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said at a Wednesday news conference.
Authorities said they had moved swiftly to arrest Matthews so that he could not strike another church.
“I felt relieved knowing that our congregation didn’t have to worry anymore,” said Harry Richard, a pastor at Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, La. “They are my main concern.”
(Reporting by The Washington Post, The Acadiana Advocate)
Man Charged With ISIS-Inspired Plot To Drive Van Into Shopping Area Near DC
Washington (CNN)– A man inspired by ISIS stole a U-Haul van and planned to drive it into a crowd of pedestrians at National Harbor, a shopping and hotel complex just outside Washington, DC, the Department of Justice alleged Monday.
Prosecutors in Maryland argue Rondell Henry, 28, should be detained as a “flight risk and danger to the community.” According to a motion for detention, Henry is alleged to have been inspired by ISIS, “prepared to die for his cause” and to have stolen a vehicle in order to “use it to commit mass murder in the pattern established by ISIS.”
The memo further alleges that Henry “walked off his job … in the middle of the day, determined to walk down the extremist path.” He then stole a U-Haul van in nearby Virginia, and while he would have “preferred a larger vehicle … his impatience to act spurred him to opt for the good rather than wait for the perfect.”
Henry, who is charged with “interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle,” allegedly drove to National Harbor on March 27 and wanted to “create panic and chaos” as happened in a 2016 truck attack in France, but he didn’t find a sufficiently sized crowd. He hid on a boat overnight, according to the Justice Department, and was ultimately arrested after authorities found the location of the stolen vehicle at National Harbor.
Henry is scheduled to appear in court in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Tuesday. An attorney for Henry was not immediately listed.
Gunman Kills 3, Injures 9 On Dutch Tram, Mayor Calls Incident A Terror Attack
UTRECHT, Netherlands (AP) — A gunman killed three people and wounded five on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday morning in what the mayor said appeared to be a terror attack, touching off a manhunt that saw heavily armed officers with dogs zero in on an apartment building nearby.
Authorities immediately raised the terror alert for the area to the highest level, and Dutch military police tightened security at airports and key buildings in the country.
A few hours after the shooting, Utrecht police released a photo of a 37-year-old Turkish-born man they identified as Gokmen Tanis and said he was “associated with the incident.” The photo showed a bearded man aboard a tram in a blue hooded top.
The attack came three days after 50 people were killed when an immigrant-hating white supremacist opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayers. There was no immediate indication of any link between the two events.
Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said three people were killed, and police put the number of wounded at five.
“We cannot exclude, even stronger, we assume a terror motive. Likely there is one attacker, but there could be more,” van Zanen said.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that “a terror motive is not excluded” and that the attack was met throughout the country with “a mix of disbelief and disgust.”
“If it is a terror attack, then we have only one answer: Our nation, democracy, must be stronger that fanaticism and violence,” he added.
The shooting took place at a busy intersection in a residential neighborhood. Police erected a white tent over an area where a body appeared to be lying next to the tram.
Anti-terror officers gathered in front of an apartment building close to the scene. A dog wearing a vest with a camera mounted on it was also seen outside the building.
Police spokesman Bernhard Jens said one person might have fled by car, and he did not rule out the possibility that more than one shooter was involved.
The Netherlands’ anti-terror coordinator, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, raised the threat alert to its highest level, 5, around Utrecht, a city of nearly 350,000.
Political parties halted campaigning ahead of provincial elections scheduled for Wednesday that will also determine the makeup of Parliament’s upper house.
In neighboring Germany, police said they stepped up surveillance of the Dutch border, watching not only major highways but also minor crossings and train routes.
German authorities said they were initially told to look out for a red Renault Clio compact car but were later informed it had been found abandoned in Utrecht.
Developing story, more to come…
New Zealand Prime Minister: Gun Reforms Will Be Announced In 10 Days
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern says gun law reforms will be announced within 10 days following the Christchurch shootings that killed 50 people.
She said Cabinet ministers had met and made an in-principle decision to tighten gun ownership but details still need to be worked out.
Ardern also announced an inquiry into the country’s intelligence services.
The Australian white supremacist charged in the massacre wasn’t detected before his well-planned attack on two mosques and there have been concerns intelligence agencies were overly focused on the Muslim community in detecting and preventing security risks.
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