From Churchgoer to Charges as Church Burner

| March 2, 2010

LINDALE, Tex. — Jason R. Bourque grew up in a house full of crosses.

At his grandparent’s spacious home here, where he was raised, a small forest of crosses stands on a table by the front door, and one wall of the living room is filled with more than a dozen decorative crosses of wrought iron, ceramic and wood.

In a hallway leading to the 19-year-old’s bedroom, there is a picture of him graduating with honors from Van High School, where he was a state champion in debate, along with his framed Eagle Scout badge. He built a picnic area for a local church as his final scouting project. That good deed came after he had gone on several summer missions for his church to build housing for the poor.

But law enforcement officials say something went awry over the last year in Mr. Bourque’s sense of good and evil. He and a childhood friend, Daniel G. McAllister, 21, now stand accused of breaking into 10 churches since Jan. 1, piling hymnals and furniture up around the pulpits and pianos and then setting the churches ablaze, according to search warrants and arrest affidavits.

“This was not his character — he was raised Christian,” his mother, Kimberly Bourque, said.

On the streets of the small towns around Tyler, where the two young men grew up and lived, people are trying to fathom how boys who had been raised in religious families and, until recently, were regular churchgoers could end up accused of such a crime.

The arsonists robbed several of the churches of musical instruments and other valuables, and neither of the accused men had a steady job. Still, few people here believe the blazes were set simply to cover burglaries. Nor does it seem likely that the crimes were pranks born of boredom that got out of hand.

“This is what is so devastating for all of us,” said Carlton Young, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Ben Wheeler, Tex., where the two accused men worshiped until a few years ago. “We just can’t put it together. We don’t know if it shows animosity, or it was just something to do.”

Though the two men, who were arrested Feb. 21, have been charged in only one of the fires so far, court documents show that the authorities have evidence — shoe prints, surveillance tapes at convenience stores and traces of genetic material left on rocks used to break windows — that they say links the two men to the other break-ins and arsons. The Texas Rangers and federal agents are still investigating and will eventually present evidence to a grand jury, officials say.

There were several signs that Mr. Bourque, described by many people as a bright student and a voracious reader in high school, was rebelling against the strict Christian upbringing he had been given by his grandparents, Bob and Brenda Steele.

Mr. McAllister, meanwhile, seemed to have become disenchanted with religion after his mother died of heart disease three years ago and he was forced to move in with relatives. He was also having trouble finding work.

Mr. Bourque had met Mr. McAllister when they were both children attending the First Baptist Church. Members of the church recalled that Mr. Bourque’s parents were troubled — his father had served time for minor drug offenses and his mother had decided to turn her three children over to her parents.

Mr. McAllister’s mother, Wanda, was extremely devout and ran the nursery at the church, members of the congregation said. His father, David, was a carpenter. Mr. McAllister was schooled at home, along with his younger sister, for religious reasons, they said. He never went to high school, but remained fast friends with Mr. Bourque.

“Daniel McAllister was always a very quiet, shy kid,” Mr. Young, said. “Jason was much more vibrant in his personality, more outgoing, a little bit of a prankster, very, very intelligent.”

As boys, Mr. McAllister usually followed Mr. Bourque’s lead, Mr. Young said. In one example, Mr. Young recalled that the two boys had broken into his church when they were about 11 to play pool and Ping-Pong.

In high school, Mr. Bourque excelled at debate and earned a reputation as a bookish boy.

“He seemed like an all-right person,” said Jimmy Stanger, 19, who attended the same school. “I never figured him to do something like that. He was in debate, and he seemed real smart. Always went around with a smile and seemed like he had friends.”

College was a different matter. A year ago, Mr. Bourque was forced to leave the University of Texas at Tyler, where he was studying business administration, after just two semesters, because he had had a run-in with the campus police, friends said. A spokeswoman for the university, Beverly S. Golden, would not comment on why he left the university, except to say, “The police had had dealings with him.”

Last summer, Mr. Bourque was charged with shoplifting videos from a store here. The arresting officer, Luke Wyneland, said Mr. Bourque denied the charges, even though the store’s employees said they had seen him grab the videos and run. “He kind of had an attitude; he was difficult to deal with,” Mr. Wyneland recalled.

On his Facebook page, Mr. Bourque said he was a fan of bonfires and listed his religion as “Christian-other.” He also posted a quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche stating that remorse for wrongdoing was useless: “Never give way to remorse, but immediately say to yourself: That would merely mean adding a second stupidity to the first.”

Clint May, 17, a cousin of Mr. McAllister who knows both young men well, said Mr. Bourque had begun to question his beliefs because “everything was going sour for him” since he dropped out of college. Mr. Bourque had started to experiment with marijuana there, Mr. May said, and he had fought several times with his grandparents over staying out late.

Just a week before he was arrested, he quarreled with his grandparents, who took the keys to his car as a punishment, Mr. May said. He moved into the home of his girlfriend’s parents, a rundown trailer outside Grand Saline, Tex., where he was arrested on Feb. 21.

His friends and family said Mr. Bourque liked to argue, to examine all sides of issues. He watched television news programs and documentaries constantly.

“He has a very inquisitive mind,” his grandmother, Brenda Steele, said. “He reads a lot of books. If it was on the news, he was interested.”


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Category: Church Security

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