Church Fires Started as a Joke and Cover-up

BIRMINGHAM -- WSFA learned from Congressman Artur Davis, a third suspect, Matthew Lee Cloyd., a student at University of Alabama-Birmingham has now been taken into custody. A vehicle, belonging to Cloyd's parents was tied to the scenes, by a tire track match. The primary driver of that vehicle was Matthew Cloyd.

According to the complaint, on March 7, ATF interviewed Matthew Cloyd's parents. Kimberly Cloyd talked to Matthew over the phone and Matthew told his mother he wasn't involved, but he knew who was. Michael Cloyd also spoke to his son. Michael Cloyd allegedly told investigators Matthew told him "he(Matthew) was there."

Another witness spoke with Matthew Cloyd by phone and testified that Cloyd and Moseley "had done something stupid that started out as a joke" and that "it got out of hand."

Kimberly Cloyd had purchased a bunch of tires for her Toyota 4-Runner last summer. Investigators tied the impression of the tire tracks to the tracks at six of the church fires.

U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Alabama, said law enforcement officers spent hundreds of hours tracking the tire tread , which was not from a commonly used tire, and finally traced it to a tire dealer in Shelby County, Alabama.

Tuesday, investigators interviewed Ben Moseley. Moseley admitted that he and the other two guys (Cloyd and Debusk) went to Bibb County in the 4-Runner on February 3, 2006. Moseley said they set fire to the first two churches and then the other three were spontaneous acts.

The other four churches were burned on the February 7, 2006, according to the complaint, "as a diversion" to throw investigators off. On Tuesday, March 7, Debusk was interviewed and he admitted that he kicked in the door of two of the five churches in Bibb County. Debusk allegedly said that two weeks after that, Moseley told him (Debusk) that Moseley and Cloyd set the other four fires.

Benjamin Nathan Moseley and Russell Lee Debusk Jr. are students at Birmingham Southern College and according to the Alabama Fire Marshal were arrested outside their dorms.

Bill Wagner, a spokesman for Birmingham Southern told WSFA, "The FBI, ATF and state police did an investigation here at the school all night. We did cooperate and will continue to cooperate. "

The two appeared in Federal court in Birmingham, Ala. around 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning for an initial appearance hearing in front of U.S. Judge Robert Armstrong which took about 15 minutes.

The suspects are expected to be charged with conspiracy to burn buildings and then the actual acts of burning the buildings.

A detention hearing is scheduled for Friday. The suspects will remain in custody until then.

NBC 13 in Birmingham is quoting law enforcement officials as saying there is footprint and fingerprint evidence which they believe link the men to individual crime scenes.

Ten Baptist churches in rural parts of the state were burned by arsonists last month. Nine of the fires — five on Feb. 2-3 in Bibb County and four on Feb. 7 in west Alabama — have been linked. Another church fire on Feb. 11 in Lamar County has been ruled arson, but is not apparently connected to the others.

February 7, 2006

  • Dancy First Baptist Church - Pickens County , damaged, predominantly black congregation.
  • Galilee Baptist Church - Sumter County , completely destroyed, predominantly black congregation.
  • Morning Star Baptist Church - Greene County , completely destroyed, predominantly black congregation.
  • Spring Valley Baptist Church - Sumter County , damaged, predominantly black congregation.

February 2-3, 2006

  • Antioch Baptist - Bibb County , damaged, predominantly white congregation.
  • Ashby Baptist Church - Bibb County , completely destroyed, predominantly white congregation.
  • Old Union Baptist Church - Bibb County , damaged, predominantly white congregation
  • Pleasant Sabine Church - Bibb County , completely destroyed, predominantly black congregation.
  • Rehoboth Baptist Church - Bibb County , completely destroyed, predominantly white congregation.

The NBC13 in Birmingham and the Associated Press contributed to this report.