As word spreads about the arrest of the two men believed to be responsible for the recent string of church fires in East Texas, some may not realize one of them is a TJC student.
Jason Robert Bourque, a 19-year-old Lindale resident and Van High School graduate, was enrolled in 9 hours of TJC courses this semester. His fellow classmates and professors never would have guessed that Bourque was behind all of this destruction.
Nick White, an art student who attended high school with Bourque, said that he seemed like a calm person and that nothing about Bourque would have indicated his secret activities.
“I was under the impression that he was a Christian because he went to that church in Grand Saline,” said White.
On Feb. 21, 2010, Bourque and Daniel George McAlister, 21, of Ben Wheeler, were arrested on a charge of arson for the Dover Baptist Church fire. They have not yet been charged with the other nine church fires or three break-ins, but authorities said evidence is pointing to them as the culprits.
“By working closely with our local and federal partners, we brought tremendous resources to this investigation, working around the clock, and culminating in these arrests. The arsons of these houses of worship were despicable and cowardly acts, and Texas won’t stand for this kind of criminal activity,” said Steven C. McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, in a press release.
The church arsons began on Jan. 1, 2010 with Little Hope Baptist Church in Canton, Texas and Faith Baptist Church in Athens, Texas. The next arson occurred on Jan. 11 at Grace Community Church of Athens followed by a fire at Lake Athens Baptist Church in Athens on Jan. 12. Tyland Baptist Church of Tyler was the next victim on Jan. 16 and on Jan. 17 another Tyler church was struck, First Church of Christ Scientist. On Jan. 20, the culprits moved their focus to Lindale and burned Prairie Creek Fellowship. Then, on Feb. 4, Russell Memorial United Methodist Church of Wills Point was added to the growing list of arsons. The last two churches that became victims of arson were Dover Baptist Church of Tyler and Clear Springs Missionary Baptist Church of Lindale, both on Feb. 8.
“Even though they may have devastated some of the structures of these churches, I believe they made the communities within these churches stronger,” said Smith County Criminal District Attorney Matt Bingham at a press conference on Feb. 21.
In addition to the arsons, three attempted church break-ins were reported.
On Feb. 7, Heritage Baptist Church of Tyler and on Feb. 8, Clear View Baptist Church and Pine Brook Baptist Church, both of Tyler, reported the attempted break-ins.
Arson of a place of worship is a first-degree felony and if charged with all 13 crimes, both Bourque and McAlister face up to life in prison with no chance for parole. Bonds for both men have been set at $10 million and they are currently being held in the Smith County Jail.
Bourque’s professors had no comment about his involvement in their classes, but it was known the he was actively involved in the TJC Art Club. Both his Facebook and MySpace profiles have been removed from the Internet so that no further information about him is available.