Fire, Faith & Forgiveness: 2010 ETX church arsonists explain why they did it
EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - Two infamous church arsonists are explaining why they waged war on East Texas congregations in 2010.
Ten churches from Canton to Tyler to Athens were purposely set on fire in less than six weeks' time. Some of the churches were destroyed, leaving the Christian community in East Texas frustrated and scared. However, the congregations held on to their faith and grew stronger than ever.
One of the arsonists, Daniel McAllister is serving out his life sentence in Gatesville, Texas. Jason Bourque, the other arsonist, is serving his life sentence in Tennessee Colony, Texas. Neither of the men have spoken to each other in years. They're not supposed to communicate with each other.
In their first television interviews since being sent to prison, McAllister and Bourque explain why they destroyed some of East Texas' cherished places of worship.
The fires that sent ten East Texas churches up in flames were not the calculated work of an experienced arsonist; they were the result of two young East Texans who grew up in the church.
They say deciding which churches to burn and which to skip was simple.
"Really, it was just if we could get in without an alarm going off or they didn't have cameras. That's the ones we went into," explains McAllister.
From a central texas prison, 26-year-old Daniel McAllister says the fires were not inspired by hate, but by greed and lots of drugs.
"All of it was drug induced. We were robbing them, taking what we could and I guess --just to hide evidence-- decided to burn them down," McAllister explains.
McAllister is confident that drugs fueled the decision to start the fires.
"I was on pills, smoked weed, meth sometimes... just different kinds of pain pills, Mucinex pills, just anything really that would get you high," he elaborates.
McAllister's counterpart, Jason Bourque, says for him, it was another drug.
"I was really impaired at the time because I was on the medication Chantix," Bourque says.
For three years, Bourque, now 24 years old, has maintained that Chantix --the anti-smoking drug-- is to blame for his behavior.
"I was also on an antidepressant, but the combo of the two or maybe the just Chantix itself left me in a state where I wasn't able to tell reality from dreams," Bourque says.
Regardless of the drugs, both men say the fires were not about religion. They say churches were just easy targets.
"I didn't have any problem with Christianity. It wasn't any motive like that," says Bourque.
Christianity is actually what brought the two men together. Long before they started setting fires, McAllister and Bourque met at First Baptist Church of Ben Wheeler. They were raised in dedicated Christian homes.
"I went [to church] almost every week. It was pretty much a requirement in our house. We started each day reading the Bible with breakfast," recalls Bourque.
"You know, it was just a normal small church. You had to dress nice or nobody would talk to you --typical churches-- but there were a lot of good people there," says McAllister.
McAllister says the elitist behavior of some church members did not propel their decision to set the churches on fire.
"No, it just drove me away from it... to leave the church. I didn't want to sit there and have people look down on me just because I wasn't wearing a suit that day. So we just decided to leave and not even go," explains McAllister.
Of all of the targets, First Baptist Church of Ben Wheeler was never touched.
"It just brought back memories to be there," says McAllister.
For Bourque, the reason to leave their own church alone wasn't as sentimental.
"I don't know. I guess because it would be too obvious otherwise," says Bourque about their decision to spare First Baptist Church of Ben Wheeler.
Both men are serving life sentences, but Bourque, who chose not to cooperate with the original investigation, was given a longer sentence. Even when Bourque is eligible for parole, he'll have to serve another 20 years in prison.
"I intended to go to trial or at least get a plea deal that was significantly lower than that because that's pretty severe for somebody with no criminal history," says Bourque.
McAllister's confession quickly brought justice for the churches and both men.
"With [McAllister's] confession they had me against a wall, you know? ...It's obviously pretty frustrating and I just don't understand why he did it," says Bourque.
Bourque says he never really thought they'd get caught, but McAllister, whose sister was a DPS trooper working on the investigation, says he always knew it was coming.
"She chose her side of the law. I was on the other. I'd expect her to do her job," McAllister adds.
"It really got out of control, and I feel like I could have put a stop to it if my mind wasn't so impaired. I don't understand why [McAllister] didn't put a stop to it because he didn't have an excuse," says Bourque.
Both men say they've received letters and visits from pastors and East Texans whose churches were burned down. They feel that those actions have shown them the true meaning of forgiveness.
Even though both men were given multiple life sentences, McAllister, will be eligible for parole in two years.
Hear more from both arsonists as they explain how their faith has been impacted in prison, Thursday on KLTV and KTRE News at 10 p.m.
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