A Douglas man has been arrested in connection with the burning of two historic churches, officials said Wednesday.
The suspect, 58-year-old Eric Duane Ridenour, is in custody at the Cochise County Jail. Early Wednesday afternoon, Diana Varela, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tucson, said Ridenour had been arrested federally.
No charges had been posted against Ridenour as of 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, but a press release issued by Douglas Police says he will be charged federally under 18 USC 844(i).
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Section 844(i) governs actual or attempted damage or destruction, by means of fire or explosives, of any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce.
Douglas Police said based on "on-scene investigation the cause of the fire was determined to have been intentional." No motive has been given, however.
Investigators said Ridenour was identified as a person of interest and enough probable cause was established to search his residence. Ridenour was then arrested by agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on Tuesday evening. Court records show Ridenour does not have a criminal history in Cochise County.
The churches — St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on 11th Street and D Avenue and the First Presbyterian Church on 10th and D Avenue — were set ablaze Monday, with one fire reigniting early Tuesday, authorities said.
The churches are both more than 110 years old and are located on the city's Historic Church Square along with the First Baptist Church and the Grace Methodist Church.
Both houses of worship had been in the news recently after they volunteered to take in migrants who were crossing the border and seeking asylum in the United States.
More than 2,000 migrants from varying countries were processed at the Border Patrol stations in Douglas and Bisbee between May 8 and May 18 after Title 42, an immigration-era policy that attempted to keep undocumented migrants from crossing the border during the pandemic, was shelved.
The migrants who were processed in Cochise County were transported by bus to Casa Alitas in Tucson, a facility run by Catholic Community Services that was assisting migrants with temporary shelter, food and clothing until they could connect with family members.
At one point, Casa Alitas was in danger of overcrowding. That's why officials from the two destroyed churches came forward to offer their services.
The flow of migrants into Cochise County stopped suddenly last Friday, and the churches' services were not needed, Douglas city officials said.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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