Suspects’ Family Members Express Shock

| February 22, 2010

Standing in his front doorway Sunday afternoon in Van, David McAllister could only shake his head, scratch his beard and wonder where things went wrong for his son.

"I'm upset by what he's done," he said. "I never thought he'd do anything like that."

Earlier that day, authorities arrested McAllister's son, Daniel George McAllister, 21, and Jason Robert Bourque, 19, charging the two Van High School graduates and longtime friends with arson in connection to a fire set at Dover Baptist Church in Carroll on Feb. 8.

Law enforcement officials said Sunday that additional charges are pending against the two men in relation to nine other church fires in the area since Jan. 1, as well as three church break-ins.

Bourque's family declined to speak with members of the media Sunday, but one of the man's relatives who did not provide his name told the

Tyler Morning Telegraph that the family had received little information pertaining to the arrest. The same relative said Bour-que's mother was attempting to meet with her son at the Smith County Jail.

For David McAllister, the news of his son's arrest initially came as a "shock" to his family, he said. But in spite of his admitted regret and sadness over his son's actions, the 56-year-old Van resident said he prays his son "takes a bad situation and turns it to good."

"There are a bunch of things I want to say (to him)," David McAllister said. "I'd tell him I still love him, but I'm disappointed. But, yeah, I still love him."

When pausing to think of an explanation for his son's alleged involvement in the string of church fires, David McAllister pointed to the death of his wife, Wanda, in October 2007.

"Ever since his mom passed away three years ago, I've seen him go, not bad — but running with the wrong crowd," he said.

David McAllister admitted his son and wife were "very close" and said since her death, he'd struggled as a father to keep Daniel on the right track.

Mrs. McAllister, prior to her death due to a heart attack and stroke, had home schooled Daniel and kept her son active at First Baptist Church Ben Wheeler as the "spiritual anchor" of the family, said Pastor Carlton Young.

"I knew her death affected him tremendously, but I hadn't seen him enough since his mother died to know how much. It was a really traumatic experience for their family," said Young, who has served as a pastor in Ben Wheeler for 15 years.

Both Young and David McAllister said Bourque and Daniel formed a strong friendship as part of the youth group at First Baptist Church Ben Wheeler. Young said neither of the men had been to the church in a year-and-a-half.

Their attendance declined markedly after Bourque's family moved to Lindale and, later, when Wanda McAllister died, Young said.

An incident at church involving his son and Bourque four or five years ago may have served as foreshadowing of the recent activity leading to the two men's arrests, David McAllister said.

While still active in the First Baptist Church Ben Wheeler youth group, Bourque and Daniel McAllister snuck into the church building overnight after finding an unlocked door.

Nothing was damaged or stolen, but Young's wife discovered the pair sneaking out of the building during early morning hours.

Young said he chalked the incident up to youthful indiscretion, writing it off as "a couple of kids finagling a way to play" in the youth room. At the time, he chose not to discuss the incident with the parents of the two young men, he said.

In retrospect, Young said, he would have had harsher words with the two former youth group members. David McAllister 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.

Although Bourque's family refused to comment on his arrest, Young described the man as "mischievous" as well as "brilliant, intelligent and capable of being whatever he set his mind to." But Young said he was never aware of the two former church members becoming involved in any illegal activity.

For that reason, he and his congregation were in "total disbelief" Sunday morning after hearing of the pair's arrests in 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.

"The whole church is very concerned for their families," Young continued. "Of course, if they have committed the crimes they're alleged to have committed, we're very grieved for those other churches.

"We'd certainly pray for (Bourque and Daniel)," he added. "I don't know what kind of access we'll have to them in the jail system at this time, but we'll be praying for them and their families, as we will these other churches."

In response to his son's $10 million bond, David McAllister shrugged and said his son would be in jail for a while. "He … made his own bed," he said.

"All I can say as a dad is that I wish it didn't happen," David McAllister said. "From my understanding, he's fessed up to it. I know a lot of people in surrounding counties are upset. He'll do his time."

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Category: Church Security

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