Two men who authorities said dabbled in satanism have been arrested in connection with a recent rash of arson and vandalism at rural churches.
Satanic graffiti was scrawled at or near some of the east Alabama churches, and the 21-year-old suspects "called themselves professed spiritual satanists," Russell County Sheriff Tommy Boswell said Monday.
Geoffrey Parquette and James Clark were arrested Sunday and pleaded not guilty Monday. Neither had an attorney.
Boswell said the men, both of the Smiths community in Lee County, were not part of any organized group.
Parquette is charged with second-degree arson, third-degree burglary and criminal mischief in Russell and Lee counties. Clark is charged with second-degree arson and burglary in Lee County.
Both remained in custody. Bond was set at $200,000 for Parquette. No bond was set immediately for Clark.
Fires were set at three churches over four days beginning Jan. 1, and a task force of federal, state and local authorities was formed last week to investigate.
One of the churches, in the suspects' hometown, was destroyed; the others sustained moderate to heavy damage. Satanic graffiti was found in or near three churches, including one that was not burned.
Jim Cavanaugh, regional director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said crosses, robes and documents were taken from the churches. He said investigators found some of these items at the homes of the suspects.
The arrests came two years after another string of deliberately set fires at rural Alabama churches led to a major federal-state investigation. Three Birmingham college students were arrested, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison.