Man suspected of setting fires at Louisiana black churches charged with federal hate crimes
LEONVILLE, La. – Before 21-year-old Holden Matthews was identified Thursday as the suspect in the St. Landry Parish church burnings, he was talking with girls online, not unlike others his age.
Taylor Thibodeaux, 23, said she met Matthews online within the last year, because they had mutual friends on Facebook. He messaged her and started commenting on her pictures, she said.
She and Matthews had a lot of mutual friends because they are from nearby small towns, she said. Thibodeaux now lives in Arnaudville but grew up 17 miles away in Opelousas.
Matthews' family's home sits on a large swath of land on the outskirts of Leonville – a town of about 1,000 located between Opelousas and Arnaudville – with horses roaming behind it. The family has lived at the address since 2004, according to parish land records.
Matthews was arrested in connection with fires set at three predominately black churches in St. Landry Parish. He was booked into the parish jail on three counts of simple arson of a religious building.
Matthews and Thibodeaux talked online and on the phone, even video chatting, and eventually met in person. Thibodeaux said he seemed to be socially anxious in person and was different on social media than in person.
When Thibodeaux told Matthews she was a Satanist, he became obsessed with the idea. He would message her with questions, but not as if he just wanted to learn. The obsession was off-putting, so she turned 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."
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She added that what Matthews is accused of doing is "absolutely wrong." Satanism isn’t about burning churches, she said, but about self-reflection and loving yourself.
Thibodeaux said during their time together Matthews also used racial slurs, made "black jokes" and "dead baby jokes."
Others in the mostly rural St. Landry Parish community said Thursday they knew little about Matthews before news Thursday of his arrest in the church fires.
Nearby neighbors described knowing the father, St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Deputy Roy Matthews, but not the son. Some said they didn't know there was a son, while one who did said the younger Matthews he knew was quiet.
Leonville Mayor Nicholas Degueyter said he did not know the family but was happy a suspect was in custody. His hope is that the situation is over now.
"It's a horrible thing (burning churches)," Degueyter said. "Hopefully it's the one person and taken care of then. Today, religion is very important."
Degueyter became mayor this year after 16 years on the Town Council.
It is not clear if Matthews attended nearby Beau Chene High School, but a neighbor believed he had been home-schooled.
Principal Barbara Roberson said she couldn't comment on whether Matthews attended Beau Chene as it was before her time as principal of the school. She started this school year at Beau Chene.
Students were completing state testing Thursday, with just days before spring break. Such things were their focus, not the arrest or the fires, Roberson said.
"When they're here, they're in school mode," Roberson said.
She added that there were no plans to talk with students about the ongoing case.
"We try not to get involved," Roberson said. "We try to keep it positive."
Follow Leigh Guidry and Ashley White on Twitter: @LeighGGuidry and @AshleyyDi
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Suspect accused of burning black churches 'didn't seem right,' and used racial slurs