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Arrests made in Texas church arson cases

TYLER, Texas (BP)–Two Texas men were arraigned Monday on felony arson charges in connection with at least one in a string of Texas church arsons that began in January.

The day before, members of the East Texas Church Arson Task Force arrested Jason Robert Bourque, 19, of Lindale, Texas, and Daniel George McAllister, 21, of Ben Wheeler, Texas, in connection with the 10 church fires confirmed as arson. The fires occurred in Henderson, Smith and Van Zandt counties. Authorities did not hint at a motive, but arrest affidavits show evidence of boot and shoe prints and a confidential informant, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

The arrests were made following a tip to a hotline provided by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

When asked by state district Judge Christi Kennedy if his family could afford to provide him legal representation, McAllister replied, “They all hate me,” the Morning Telegraph reported.

“This investigation is not complete. No investigation is finished until guilt is proven in court. But today marks a significant milestone,” said Robert Champion, special agent in charge of the ATF in Dallas, following the arrests. “The arsons in these communities have been devastating but the citizens have been resilient and aided each other and the investigation.”

“Cooperation is the cornerstone to successful investigations and here in East Texas it is no different. ATF has been a proud partner in this case. We had over 70 agents, both local and members of two National Response Teams working on this investigation since the beginning. All agencies involved will continue to work together towards our goal of a successful prosecution of those involved in these crimes,” Champion said.

Since the New Year, there have been 11 Texas church fires and 10 confirmed as arson. Five of those churches have been Baptist churches and four of them are Southern Baptist congregations: Lake Athens Baptist Church in Athens, Little Hope Baptist Church in Canton, Tyland Baptist Church in Tyler and Dover Baptist Church in Smith County.

Earlier, federal investigators upped the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonists to $25,000 from earlier figures of $10,000 and $5,000. Authorities released composite sketches of three suspects on Feb. 11.
Story compiled by staff of the Southern Baptist Texan (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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