Thursday, February 25, 2010
Motive still unknown in 10 ET church fires;
authorities reveal Canton church first arson
By Julie Vaughan
Monitor Staff Writer
TYLERAfter an almost two-month investigation into a string of church fires across East Texas, two arrests were made Saturday night.
Jason Robert Bourque, 19, of Lindale, and Daniel George McAllister, 21, of Ben Wheeler, were arraigned Monday on charges of arson with the intent to damage a place of worship in Judge Christi Kennedys 114th district courtroom in Tyler.
Jason Robert Bourque Daniel George McAllister
Both will be represented by court-appointed attorneys. The young men are being held in the Smith County Jail under $10 million bond each.
Bourque was arrested in Van Zandt County, and McAllister was arrested in San Antonio then transported back to Smith County.
Long-time friends, at one time, both men attended the First Baptist Church of Ben Wheeler.
Bourque graduated from Van High School in 2008, where he was a state debate champion for the school, and later enrolled at the University of Texas at Tyler.
McAllister had also attended high school in Van.
Authorities said a combination of tips from the public and investigation into the string of arsons led to the arrests during a press conference Sunday afternoon.
The tips proved to be fruitful, Smith County Deputy Tony Dana said.
Three people of interest whose sketches were released by federal agents Feb. 12 are not connected with the arsons, authorities said Sunday.
Dana credited the teamwork of law enforcement from multiple agencies in multiple counties for their efforts in their work on this case.
Teamwork paid off and these individuals were apprehended, Dana said.
He went on to thank the various agencies who worked tirelessly and never gave up during this investigation.
To God be the glory, Dana said in closing remarks.
An East Texas Church Arson Task Force was established to investigate the 10 church fires that began Jan. 1.
The Task Force was made up of officials from ATFE (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives), Texas Rangers, Texas Department of Public Safety, Athens Police Department, Athens Fire Department, Henderson County Fire Marshal, Henderson County Sheriffs Office, Lindale Fire Marshal and Lindale Police Department.
Also, the Smith County Fire Marshal, Smith County Sheriffs Office, Tyler Police Department, Tyler Fire Department, Van Zandt County Fire Marshal, Van Zandt County Sheriffs Office, FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The task force worked cases in a three-county area covering 2,648 square miles and monitored about 713 churches.
A hotline was also set up and a $25,000 reward offered for information on the arsons.
Clearly, this effort shows that Texas law enforcement has mastered the art and science of working together, Department of Public Safety Steven McCraw said. Everyone did a tremendous job.
McCraw said the two men are being charged with the Feb. 8 arson of Dover Baptist Church in Smith County. More charges are expected, as evidence links the two men to the nine other fires.
He said the investigation followed numerous leads. (See Investigators make case on front page.)
Church arsons are a despicable and cowardly act, McCraw said.
Arson is a devastating crime, Dallas ATFE Special Agent in Charge Robert Champion said.
It was the partnership that formed between law enforcement agencies which helped in finding these suspects, he added.
Likewise, the solidarity of the communities and the long enduring hours spent locally on the investigation were also key to these arrests, Champion said.
East Texans should be very proud, he added.
McCraw said three search warrants were issued during the arrest and apprehension process of the suspects.
Champion confirmed that the New Years Day fire at Little Hope Baptist Church, located on Van Zandt County Road 4106, was arson.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said both men could face state and federal charges.
The church fires are regarded as first-degree felonies and carry a penalty of five to 99 years to life in prison upon conviction.
In addition to 10 church fires, three more churches were targeted with attempted break-ins. Investigators believe these are also connected to the suspects.
According to a press release from the Texas Department of Public Safety, a call to a task force tip line alerted investigators to the two men.
Churches damaged by fire included:
Little Hope Baptist Church in Canton on Jan. 1; later that same day, Faith Baptist Church in Athens was torched.
Grace Community Church and the Lake Athens Baptist Church, both in Athens, burned two hours apart Jan. 11-12,
Tyland Baptist Church in Tyler, Jan.16,
First Church of Christ, Scientist in Tyler, Jan. 17,
Prairie Creek Fellowship in Lindale, Jan. 20,
Russell Memorial United Methodist Church in Wills Point, Feb. 4,
Dover Baptist Church in Tyler, and the Clear Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Lindale, both burned Feb. 8.
Attempted break-ins were noted at Heritage Baptist Church in Tyler Feb. 7, and Clear View Baptist Church and Pine Brook Baptist Church, both in Tyler, Feb. 8.
The arsons in these communities have been devastating, but the citizens have been resilient and aided each other and the investigation, Champion added.
Investigators make case against church
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