2 Suspected Arsonists In Smith County Jail

| February 22, 2010

A long-awaited sigh of relief that area churches and hundreds of law enforcement officials sought finally was realized Sunday with the arrests of two men believed to have torched 10 churches since Jan 1.

Though exhausted from weeks of working around the clock, scores of law enforcement men and women filled the Smith County Peace Officers Building to announce the capture of the pair.

The fruit of their investigation was celebrated with pats on the back and congratulations.

Jason Robert Bourque, 19, of Lindale, and Daniel George Mc-Allister, 21, of Ben Wheeler, were arrested after calls to a tip line led to more than a week of surveillance on the two. The men were being held in the Smith County Jail on bonds totaling $10 million each.

DNA and other evidence collected during the execution of three search warrants and from crime scenes helped authorities obtain arrest warrants on the duo. A suspect's family member also is credited with providing law enforcement with much-needed assistance.

INVESTIGATION

"To God be the glory," Smith County Sheriff's Lt. Tony Dana said at the Sunday afternoon news conference announcing the apprehension.

Dana said the East Texas community recently had been terrorized with the arsons, but teamwork led to the capture of the two suspects.

"I have never seen a more dedicated group of men and women than in this investigation," he said. "That teamwork led to the arrests of these two individuals."

After the fires continued, officials formed the East Texas Church Arson Task Force, which covered three counties including 2,648 square miles and an estimated 713 churches.

It was called the largest-scale investigation in East Texas history with a price tag one federal official said would be in the millions.

"We can't go into the details of how we gained the information, but we have been looking at them for some time," Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Dallas Bureau Chief Robert Champion said.

Bourque and McAllister were arrested in connection with the fire at Dover Baptist Church in Carroll that occurred earlier this month, but officials said at the news conference that the two suspects face charges on the other arsons and three break-ins at other churches.

"We feel confident that these two individuals were responsible for all of the fires," Champion said.

Officials said during the news conference that 75 ATF agents, 100 Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, 50 Texas Rangers, 50 state investigators and authorities from three counties worked on the case for the past few months.

Authorities would not talk about all the evidence against the two, but they did confirm there were multiple samples of DNA taken from several of the church fire scenes.

"There was DNA collected at multiple sites," Champion said.

When questioned whether it was blood or another type of DNA and whether the DNA had already matched the two suspects, Champion only said he was confident that "no additional churches would burn."

Champion said the persons of interest the ATF were looking for last week and released sketches of no longer were being sought and were not related to the arsons.

Officials would not say whether anyone would be collecting the $25,000 reward the ATF was offering for the arrests and conviction of the persons responsible for the fires.

"The arsons of these houses of worship were despicable and cowardly acts, and Texas won't stand for this kind of criminal activity. The result of this investigation was due to a major commitment of resources," DPS Director Steven McCraw said at the news conference, which law enforcement representatives, community leaders and church officials attended.

McCraw added, "East Texas can rest easy tonight."

Gov. Rick Perry released a statement late Sunday.

"I want to commend the hundreds of local, state and federal law enforcement officers for their tremendous dedication and professionalism in working patrol and investigative operations around the clock that culminated in the arrest of two individuals charged in the East Texas church arsons," Perry said in the statement. "The criminals responsible for these atrocious attacks terrorized not only the respective church congregations but entire communities. Today's arrests send a strong message that ruthless criminal activity against Texans, our churches and communities will not be tolerated and that our law enforcement professionals are trained, equipped and committed to seeing justice is served."

Those close to the investigation said neither suspect has given a motive for the fires.

"We just don't know at this point," one official said. "We're just glad this is over."

"This investigation is not complete. No investigation is finished until guilt is proven in court. But today marks a significant milestone," Champion said. "The arsons in these communities have been devastating, but the citizens have been resilient and aided each other and the investigation."

TERROR'S END?

Officials said Sunday that Bourque was arrested in a northern Smith County residence early that day, and McAllister was arrested at a San Antonio home.

McCraw said that besides the hundreds of officers on the ground, several DPS choppers had been flying over the area at night using night-vision goggles and watching local churches.

"This case was a unique challenge, because we not only had to process the crime scenes, collect evidence and follow leads, but at the same time, we were being asked by the community to protect the churches," he said.

DPS trooper and area spokeswoman Jean Dark congratulated the agencies involved for their success and thanked the media. Ms. Dark also confirmed that McAllister's sister is a dispatcher for the Tyler DPS district.

"It is unfortunate to have a fine employee such as this have a family member involved in an activity like this," she said. "(Ms. McAllister) actually aided in the investigation."

But Ms. Dark would not go into detail.

She added that "the media played a large part in this by keeping this story on everyone's mind."

Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said he looks forward to prosecuting the cases.

"I believe the people of Smith County not only deserve the right to hear the evidence but to judge these cases," Bingham said when asked whether the cases would be tried on a state or federal level.

Bingham said the men likely would face state charges, which could land them in prison for life on each count.

However, he added, the two also could face federal charges.

Bingham pointed out an unintended consequence of the fires.

"I think these fires made the communities of these churches stronger," he said.

 

http://www.tylerpaper.com/article/20100222/NEWS01/2220322

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Category: Church Security

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