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Video, shoe prints implicate church fire suspects

Stephen James Johnson

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From the Associated Press.

TYLER, Texas – Investigators say convenience store video and shoe prints helped them to link two suspects to two church fires in east Texas.

Nineteen-year-old Jason Robert Bourque and 21-year-old Daniel George McAllister were charged Sunday with a single felony arson in the torching of the Dover Baptist Church in rural Smith County.

Affidavits presented Monday in a state district court in Tyler, about 90 miles east of Dallas, say the footage and prints linked Bourque and McAllister to the Feb. 8 Dover Baptist fire and another the same night at the Clear Spring Missionary Baptist Church, also in Tyler.

The churches are among 11 burned in Texas this year.

Bourque and McAllister could face life in prison if convicted. Bond is set at $10 million apiece.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

TYLER, Texas (AP) — Investigators say DNA evidence collected at the site of one of several Texas churches destroyed by arson links one of two suspects to the blaze, and they haven’t ruled out more charges.

Jason Robert Bourque, 19, and Daniel George McAllister, 21, were arrested and charged Sunday with one count of felony arson for the torching of a church in rural Smith County, said Tom Crowley, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Crowley declined to say which suspect produced the positive DNA match.

The church near Tyler, about 90 miles east of Dallas, was among 10 in east Texas burned since the beginning of 2010. Authorities believe those fires, along with another in central Texas, were arson. No injuries have been reported in the fires.

“Because they are charged with one doesn’t mean they’re not going to be charged with some of the others,” Crowley said.

Crowley said a telephone hot line established as the number of church fires mounted produced a tip that implicated one of the pair, and that they had been “on our radar” for several weeks. Officials declined to discuss a motive at a news conference Sunday.

Investigators collected DNA from the site of several of the fires, and samples from one of the suspects matched evidence found at the scene of the Smith County fire, Crowley said.

Bourque and McAllister could face life in prison if convicted. Bond is set at $10 million apiece. Crowley andSmith County jail officials said they had no information on attorneys for either man.

The pair used to attend First Baptist Church in McAllister’s hometown of Ben Wheeler, Crowley said. TheTyler Morning Telegraph reported that they attended Van High School in Van, about 7 miles away.

Bourque, of nearby Lindale, was arrested early Sunday in Van Zandt County, where four of the fires occurred, Crowley said.

McAllister was taken into custody in San Antonio. Crowley said McAllister had recently moved to the city.

The rash of fires began with a blaze at a church in Athens and another on New Year’s Day not far away. A fire in the central Texas town of Temple followed, but the federal investigation did not kick in until two churches were torched Jan. 11 in Athens. Less than a week later, four fires in five days were reported. The two most recent fires included the one that resulted in charges against Bourque and McAllister.

There were attempted break-ins at three churches in Tyler in early February, but those buildings were not burned, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement.

David Mahfood, pastor of one of the churches in Tyler that was torched, said residents still think they must remain vigilant.

“We’re blessed that no lives were lost and no one was injured, but I don’t think we let our guard down,” Mahfood said.

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Video, shoe prints implicate church fire suspects