The burnt ruins of the St. Mary Baptist Church, one of three that recently burned down in St. Landry Parish, are seen in Port Barre, La., Apr. 10, 2019.
The burnt ruins of the St. Mary Baptist Church, one of three that recently burned down in St. Landry Parish, are seen in Port Barre, La., Apr. 10, 2019.

The son of a white sheriff's deputy has been arrested and charged with of burning down three historic African-American churches in St. Landry Parrish, Louisiana.

Police identify the suspect as 21 year-old Holden Matthews, whose father not only knew nothing about his son's alleged crimes, but helped set up his arrest.

"He broke down. He's shocked and hurt as any father would be," Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said.

Police say they have no motive for the fires so far, but say the FBI is investigating them as possible hate crimes.

Matthews is charged with three counts of arson. He allegedly set fire to three historically black churches in Louisiana between March 26 and April 4. None of the houses of worship were occupied at the time and no one was hurt.

But Governor John Bel Edwards said the arsons were "especially painful because it reminds us of a very dark period of intimidation and fear" — a reference to the dark days in the southern U.S. when many black churches were firebombed by white supremacist terrorists, sometimes with deadly results.

Matthews was tracked down through surveillance video, cellphone records, and a gasoline can that was traced to a department store and allegedly bought with Matthews' debit card.

If convicted, Matthews faces as much as 45 years in prison.