Two young men connected with a string of church fires in east Texas were arrested Sunday.
Jason Robert Bourque, 19, and Daniel George McAllister, 21, were charged with arson of a Dover Baptist Church building. They also may face charges for deliberately burning nine other churches.
"The arsons of these houses of worship were despicable and cowardly acts, and Texas won't stand for this kind of criminal activity," said Steven C. McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, in a statement.
Church fires in the Lone Star state began on Jan. 1. Authorities officially ruled the burnings as arson earlier this month.
The latest burnings occurred on Feb. 8 at Dover Baptist Church and Clear Spring Missionary Church near Tyler, Texas. Each church suffered considerable damage.
Despite the damage or destruction to church sanctuaries, the congregations have not let the fires weigh them down.
Edie Burgess Head, whose church was the eighth to be burned, stated on the United Methodist Church's Facebook page, "Russell Memorial United Methodist will not let our church fire burn our faith down!"
Darrell Coats, interim pastor at Russell Memorial, told KYTX, "The church is going to bounce back, and we're going to be stronger because of it."
A task force – which included hundreds of law enforcement officers, more than 200 personnel from the DPS and numerous Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents – was created to find the suspects and stop the arsons. A call to a task force tip line alerted investigators to the two men.
"We've been looking at these guys for a while," said ATF spokesman Thomas Crowley to The New York Times. "But we had to paste together information."
The men had attended First Baptist Church in Ben Wheeler, according to the DPS.
They face first-degree felony charges.
The investigations are ongoing and the men may face more charges. Investigators believe attempted break-ins at three other churches in Tyler are also connected to Bourque and McAllister.
"This investigation is not complete. No investigation is finished until guilt is proven in court. But today marks a significant milestone," Robert Champion, special agent in charge of ATF in Dallas, said in a statement Sunday. "The arsons in these communities have been devastating but the citizens have been resilient and aided each other and the investigation.
"All agencies involved will continue to work together towards our goal of a successful prosecution of those involved in these crimes."