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By Tom Gordon and Stan Diel
Religion News Service

LADONIA, Ala. (RNS) An intruder did more than torch the pulpit and scorch the sanctuary ceiling at Woodland Baptist Church on Friday (Jan.4). He scattered frozen treats, pickles and popcorn kernels, left a trail of syrup, stole a VCR and a DVD player and gutted a beanbag chair.
The intruder also left a red-letter message on a wall in the room where children learn scriptural lessons on Sundays.
“Teach children to worship Satan,” the message states, an upside-down pentagram alongside it.
East Alabama authorities believe they now have the man behind that message in custody. He and a friend, described as Satan worshipers, have been arrested in connection with arsons and vandalism at the church and two other nearby churches. Satanic graffiti was found at a fourth church.
The two arrested were Geoffrey Parquette and James Clark, both 21 and residents of Smiths Station. Parquette was charged under state laws with second-degree arson, third-degree burglary and criminal mischief.
Clark was charged with second-degree arson and burglary. Items stolen from the churches, including crosses, robes and documents, were found in the men’s homes, authorities said.
“Their motive was `the devil made me do it,”‘ said Jim Cavanaugh, regional director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
At Greater Bethelpore Baptist Church in Smiths Station — now a fire-gutted ruin — one member agreed.
“They don’t believe in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they really don’t even believe in themselves,” said Earnest Coleman, who was cleaning up the fire site. “They’re gonna have to give an account of what they’ve done.”
The two men, arrested Sunday (Jan. 6) on a tip, pleaded not guilty on their initial appearance in court Monday. Neither had retained an attorney. Both remained in custody. Bond was set at $200,000 for Parquette. No bond was set for Clark.
The three church arsons in rural east Alabama took place over four days, beginning Jan. 1, and spawned a investigative task force of federal, state and local authorities.
The arrests of Parquette and Clark came less than two years after another string of deliberately set fires at nine rural Alabama churches led to a major federal-state investigation and the arrest of three Birmingham college students.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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