Woman convicted for 2021 arson of historic First Baptist Church Montgomery
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A woman arrested and charged with setting multiple fires that caused extensive damage to historic First Baptist Church Montgomery in 2021 has been convicted by a federal jury, according to U.S. Attorney Sandra J. Stewart’s office.
Xiaoqin Yan, a 29-year-old Chinese national, was found guilty of committing arson and possessing a firearm by an illegal alien on Wednesday. She faces up to 20 years in federal prison when sentencing is handed down in the coming months.
Montgomery firefighters responded to the blaze inside the century-old, downtown church in the early morning hours of Sept. 30, 2021. Court records and evidence shown at trial confirmed that Yan was responsible.
Security videos from inside the church the day before the fire showed a woman carrying duffel bags and a plastic bag into the church during its Wednesday night service. Just after 2 a.m. the following day, video showed the same woman removing silver containers from one of her bags and igniting multiple fires around the building.
An investigation linked the vehicle driven by the suspect and the license plate number of Yan’s vehicle. Law enforcement also learned that, on multiple occasions before the fire, church employees encountered someone matching Yan’s description on the church’s campus and, one encounter, a staff member escorted her off of church property because of her odd behavior. Investigators ultimately identified Yan as the same person encountered by the staff and in the security videos, Stewart’s office said.
Yan was arrested at a Montgomery home on Oct. 4, 2021 at which time agents found evidence including duffel bags identical to the ones seen in the church surveillance videos. There were also clothes that matching the type worn by the suspect, as well as gas containers, starter logs, and lighters.
Officers also found a handgun during their search. At the time of the arson and her arrest, Yan was in the United States illegally because she’d overstayed her non-immigrant visa and subsequently could not legally possess the gun.
Members of the church, which includes Alabama’s governor, gathered for their first service after the arson in a parking lot across the street. Some 300 days after the blaze, in July 2022, one of Montgomery’s largest congregations marked a milestone, once again worshipping inside their main sanctuary.
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