Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Suspect Arrested In Louisiana Black Church Arson Cases


Three historically black churches in the state of Louisiana are gone. Fires burned them to the ground over the course of 10 days. And now a 21-year-old, a parish sheriff deputy's son, has been arrested and charged with arson. Louisiana's Governor John Bel Edwards spoke after the arrest.


JOHN BEL EDWARDS: I don't know what this young man's motive was. I don't know what was in his heart. But I can say it cannot be justified or rationalized. These were evil acts.

MARTIN: We've got Katie Gagliano with us. She's been reporting the story for the Acadiana Advocate.

Katie, first off, can you just tell us more about these congregations? Are they all close together geographically? Do they have a connection to one another besides being historically black congregations?

KATIE GAGLIANO: Yes. Aside from being historically black congregations, they also are located on rural highways. And that was a connecting factor in the case. They are in two neighboring towns. The churches are all within a couple miles - probably about 15 to 20 minutes of one another.

They play very central roles in their communities. All the congregants I spoke to said that their families have attended these churches for generations. Many of the older members have celebrated all of their religious rights in these churches, including christenings, baptisms, marriages. They're - they have a lot of sentimental and emotional value for these communities.

MARTIN: Yeah. So let's talk about the person who's suspected of being responsible for the fires. What do we know about this man who's been arrested?

GAGLIANO: We know from his online activity he has connections to the black metal movement. This is a subset genre of kind of rock, metal music that was connected to several church burnings by people who were part of the movement in Norway in the 1990s. There are some - certain subsets of the genre that are connected to neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements, though we don't have evidence yet that he was connected to any of those subsets.

MARTIN: I mean, it is hard to hear about church burnings in the South and not conjure up stories of the 1960s and the civil rights movement, when black churches were familiar targets for racist attacks. I mean, how are these congregations navigating all of this right now?

GAGLIANO: Well, obviously, you know, when they and when others have heard that these three churches were all historically black, that is something that people think about. You think of a possible bias motive. They're still trying to determine if that was a reason in these fires.

You know, but the church communities are trying to approach this with as much resilience as possible. The pastors have been talking a lot about keeping the focus on love. Especially because we're still trying to determine motive and cause, a lot of the pastors were saying that they didn't want to create fear in their communities more than there already is.

MARTIN: Right. We've actually got some tape of Reverend Gerald Toussaint, one of the pastors of the churches that was burned down. Let's listen.


GERALD TOUSSAINT: A lot of people want to make it a hate thing. Well, we don't represent hate. We represent love.

MARTIN: Which is really the only way forward through something like this. Katie Gagliano with the Acadiana Advocate.

Katie, thank you so much for sharing your reporting on this. We appreciate it.

GAGLIANO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.