Texas arson suspects former youth members
    February 22 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

    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 the family.

    “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, Texas.

    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 patrols.”

    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 for them. 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 time.

    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.”  
    2/22/2010 10:21:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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