Fire, Faith & Forgiveness: A look back at the 2010 ETX church ar - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Fire, Faith & Forgiveness: A look back at the 2010 ETX church arsons

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First Church Christ Scientist burns in 2010. Source: KLTV Staff First Church Christ Scientist burns in 2010. Source: KLTV Staff
EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - Four years have passed since two young arsonists devastated congregations across East Texas. Ten churches were set on fire in six weeks. Many of the church buildings were burned beyond repair, but the spirit of the people who worshiped at the churches was not destroyed.    

On New Years Day 2010, Little Hope Baptist Church in Canton was the quiet first strike of two now-infamous East Texas church arsonists. It wouldn't be until after the arsonists were behind bars that people would learn Little Hope is where it all began.

The same day Little Hope was set on fire, Faith Church in Athens burned, too. A week later, two more Athens churches-- Grace Bible Church and Lake Athens Baptist Church fell victim.

"I don't know who they are, but I'm still going to pray. God knows who they are, that their souls will be saved, they'll change and come back and say, 'I'm sorry for what I've done to your church,'" said Shirley Richards on January 12, 2010. Richards was a member of Lake Athens Baptist Church.

However, the arsonists were just getting started. By the end of that same week, First Church Christ Scientist and Tyland Baptist Church, both in Tyler, would burn to the ground.

Investigators couldn't deny it. The fires were more than a tragic coincidence, but were all of them linked and when would it stop?

"There's no guarantee, if this is arson, that they're finished," explained Jeff Tucker, a Tyler Deputy Fire Investigator, on January 18, 2010.
 
In just a couple of weeks, six churches had burned and more fires were coming. Communities rallied together. Through faith and prayer they would persevere.

The nation's eyes turned to East Texas as state and local leaders surveyed the damage.

"As another burned and another it became clear that evil was afoot," said Governor Rick Perry when visiting Tyler that winter.

Vigilant East Texans vowed to keep watch and protect their own churches from the fires.

"The East Texas law enforcement community and the church community will catch this guy," Buddy Williams, a concerned church member, said on February 11, 2010.

However, the community still did not know that there were two guys to catch. In the coming weeks, they would set fire to Fellowship of Prairie Creek, Russell Memorial United Methodist Church, Dover Baptist and Clear Spring Church.

"Why? Why? This is the Lord's house. It's such a shame that somebody can be such an unbeliever," Shirley Valadez said on February 9, 2010 after her own church, Dover Baptist, burned down.

"All I can say is, whoever did it... I hope they got enjoyment out of it 'cause they're going to pay for it somewhere down the line. God's not going to let them get away with this." said Willbur Callaway, another Dover Baptist Church member.

By mid-February, local law enforcement, the ATF and FBI had three sketches. They weren't calling them suspects, but instead "persons of interest."

"There have been serial arsons in the past, but this is fast approaching one of the largest ones that we have ever worked on," said ATF Spokeswoman Franceska Perot on February 12, 2010.

Investigators were getting close to nailing down their suspects. Then, one of the arsonists expedited that process. The entire time, Little Hope, the first church that was set on fire, had not been counted in the tally of destruction. Initially, investigators had thought the church fire was electrical. Weeks later, Atwoods store surveillance video captured a young man walking into the restroom. What he left behind was a carving on a bathroom stall door that read, "Little Hope was arson."

A tip from one of the arsonists' friends helped secure their arrests. The suspects were 19-year-old Jason Bourque of Van and 21-year-old Daniel McAllister of Ben Wheeler. In the weeks following their arrests, the men would face judges across the tri-county area that they had attacked. This time, they were the ones under fire and there was no mercy.

The crimes would land them each in prison serving multiple life sentences. However McAllister's cooperation with authorities still got him a better deal than Bourque who never spoke a word about the arsons.

By the time both men were sentenced to prison, most of the East Texas churches they victimized had long moved on. Congregations were rebuilding and rejoicing in their faith that could never be rocked by fire.

Daniel McAllister is eligible for parole in 2016. Jason Bourque still has at least ten years to go, followed by another 20 year sentence after that.

In their first television interviews since being sent to prison the men explained how it all got started.  

"We grew up breaking into [our church] all of the time because it had a pool table and foosball table, and we'd just go there at night and play pool or something like that. I guess that's what put the idea in our heads. We started breaking into other churches and stealing, but [Daniel McAllister] said something about burning them down because he wanted to cover up the evidence of the finger prints or something like that," said Jason Bourque in April of 2014.

"I knew we were gonna get caught. I mean, you can't burn a church down and not expect people to wonder who did it. So, I knew it was just a matter of time," said Daniel McAllister in a separate interview just a week before Jason's interview

Hear more from both men on KLTV and KTRE news at 10pm on Wednesday May 14th and Thursday may 15th.

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