Holden Matthews, the 21-year-old son of a sheriff's deputy who was charged with burning down three historically black churches in southern Louisiana, was attracted to Satanism and black metal.
"Information investigators have uncovered, and that Matthews has offered, suggests a possible connection with a genre of music called 'black metal' and its associated history with church burnings in other parts of the world, which have been documented in movies and books," the state fire marshal's office said in a statement cited by CNN.
Black metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music that usually features anti-Christian, satanic and paganistic themes.
Matthews, who is a resident of St. Landry Parish where the fires occurred over the last two weeks, was charged with three counts of simple arson on religious buildings with each carrying a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Louisiana State Fire Marshal “Butch” Browning, said at a press conference Thursday morning that the fires are “an attack on our God and our religion” and investigators acted quickly to arrest Matthews because “we felt that other crimes were imminent.”
“In my career, I have never seen such a spiritual mission that has come home so quickly,” said Browning.
Taylor Thibodeaux, 23, who identifies as a Satanist, told USA Today that she met Matthews on social media through mutual friends. She said once he discovered that she was into Satanism he became so obsessed with the practice that she was forced to turn down a date with him.
"We were supposed to go on a date, but, for me, he didn’t seem right," she said. "The infatuation he had toward me and my religion just threw me off."
Thibodeaux noted that during their time together, Matthews also used racial slurs, made "black jokes" and "dead baby jokes." She further called the church burnings Matthews is accused of carrying out "absolutely wrong" and argued that Satanism is about self-reflection and loving yourself, not burning down houses of worship.
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church became the third historically black church over 100 years old to burn down in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, in a span of 10 days last week. St. Mary’s Baptist Church was the first reported church fire on March 26 and Greater Union Baptist Church went up in flames a week later, NBC News reported.
Pastors of the churches that were burned down told The Advocate they were relieved that Matthews was arrested but also prayed that he would turn his life over to God.
"I just thank God that it's over. Our church can rebuild and get back to our work. It's been some sleepless nights. Now we can finally rest for a little while," Rev. Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church said after a news conference Thursday.
“I would just like to ask him why he would do such a thing. I don’t know his motives,” the Rev. Harry Richard of Greater Union Baptist Church said. “I would like to see his heart and talk to him and let him express to me what it is that I’ve done, or anyone in our churches have done, to cause the pain or whatever it is he’s feeling toward us that he would do such a thing.”
Toussaint also praised law enforcement for the work they did in responding to the fires.
“Lately, law enforcement has been given a black eye but today it showed that they are real, and they’re good, and they supported and helped us. Many of them didn’t have to but they did,” he told The Advocate.