TYLER, Texas — Two young men
suspected of setting 10 East Texas churches on fire were active in the youth
group of a Southern Baptist congregation before drifting away from church after
the mother of one of them died three years ago.
David McAllister, father of
21-year-old Daniel George McAllister, one of two men arrested Feb. 21 on an
arson charge, told
the Tyler Morning Telegraph he had struggled with keeping his son on the right
track since his wife, who home-schooled the boy and kept him active in First
Baptist Church in Ben Wheeler, Texas, died from a heart attack and stroke.
Carlton Young, pastor of the
Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated
church for 15 years, remembered Wanda McAllister as the “spiritual anchor” of
“I knew her death affected him tremendously, but I hadn’t seen him enough since
his mother died to know how much,” Young told the Tyler newspaper. “It was a
really traumatic experience for their family.”
Young said neither McAllister
nor the other suspect, 19-year-old Jason Robert Bourque, had attended the
church for a year and a half. He said their attendance fell off after
McAllister’s mother died and Bourque’s family moved from Ben Wheeler, a town of
600 east of Dallas, to Lindale, Texas, about 20 miles away.
Police arrested Bourque in
Van Zandt County, Texas, and McAllister in San Antonio.
Both arrests were
without incident and both suspects were taken to Smith County to face charges
of arson in the Feb. 8 blaze that destroyed Dover Baptist Church in Tyler,
Authorities believe the duo
is responsible for nine church fires set between Jan. 1 and Feb. 8 in four East
Texas communities. They also are suspected in three attempted church break-ins
during the rash of arsons.
Additional charges are expected to be filed.
Police say they believe that
a Jan. 19 arson that destroyed First Baptist Church of Temple in Central Texas
is unrelated to the East Texas church fires.
An official with the federal
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said Feb. 21 that a person
of interest has been identified in the Temple fire, which caused an estimated
$15 million in damage.
Police did not discuss a
motive for setting the East Texas church fires, but they said they had known
about the two suspects for several weeks.
Officials said a telephone hotline
tip triggered the arrests and that DNA evidence linked one of the two men to
the scene of one of the fires.
News of the arrests brought
relief to area churches, which had been advised to take security measures such
as installing alarm systems and surveillance cameras and members taking turns
guarding church buildings in what law-enforcement officials called “church
In Texas church arson is a
first-degree felony punishable by five to 99 years in prison. Bourque and
McAllister are being held on $10 million bond.
“No investigation is
finished until guilt is proven in court, but today marks a significant
milestone,” Robert Champion, special agent in charge of the ATF in Dallas, said
Feb. 21. “The arsons in these communities have been devastating, but the
citizens have been resilient and aided each other and the investigation.”
The men were arrested by a
task force created Jan. 20 to stop the arsons and find the people responsible
Hundreds of local law
enforcement officers, more than 200 personnel from the Texas Department of
Public Safety — including Texas Rangers, Highway Patrol troopers and Criminal
Investigation Division agents — and numerous FBI and ATF agents and specialists
worked the case in a three-county area covering 2,648 square miles and an
estimated 713 churches.
“By working closely with our
local and federal partners, we brought tremendous resources to this
investigation, working around the clock, and culminating in these arrests,” said
Steven McCraw, director of the Department of Public Safety. “The arsons of
these houses of worship were despicable and cowardly acts, and Texas won’t
stand for this kind of criminal activity.”
The pastor at First Baptist
Church in Ben Wheeler told
the Tyler newspaper that in hindsight, he wishes he had taken it more seriously
four or five years ago when Bourne and McAllister snuck into the church
building after finding an unlocked door. Nothing was damaged or taken, but
Young’s wife spotted the youngsters sneaking out of the building during the
early morning hours.
Young said he attributed the
incident to youthful indiscretion by a couple of kids finding a way to play in
the youth room. At the time he said he decided not to discuss it with the boys’
parents, but now he wishes he had used harsher words.
McAllister’s father agreed. “If
something would have been done then, then maybe this could have been different,”
he said, adding that he and his wife should have punished their son at the
Bourque’s family declined to
discuss his arrest, but Young remembered him as “mischievous” as well as
intelligent and capable of doing anything he set his mind to. The pastor said
he was not aware of the boys being involved in any illegal activity and that he
and the church were in “total disbelief” on hearing about their connection to
the church arsons.
“I would have never dreamed
it,” Young said. “If you had told me they were caught doing some youthful,
stupid thing, then OK. But to dream of them … we were totally devastated to
think they would do that.”