KGUN9 Tucson and other local media report that the subject charged with setting fire to two Arizonachurches was motivated by sexism and homophobia.
Federal prosecutors have charged Eric Duane Ridenour with setting the fires that destroyed historic St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and severely damaged the First Presbyterian Church, both in Douglas, Arizona.
Pretrial motions filed by US attorneys indicate that Ridenour previously toured St. Stephen’s, where he asked about the church’s beliefs. Ridenour allegedly told neighbors that he does not approve of women or LGBTQ+ persons serving in church leadership.
The vicar of St. Stephen’s is openly gay, while the pastor of the Presbyterian church is female.
Pastors at both burned churches have stated through legal channels—per the Crime Victims Rights Act—that they have concerns over the safety of of members of the Douglas community should Ridenour be released:
“…the pastors of both victim churches have provided input relaying that their parishioners are terrified of additional danger to their community by the defendant, they are fearful for their congregations, and they have been contacted by other faith leaders in the Douglas and surrounding community who are also fearful for their own churches and their parishioners. The pastors, and other faith leaders, have expressed fear of retribution should the defendant be released. The southeastern Arizona border towns are small communities and the church leaders are easily recognizable.”
—Government Motion for Retention, p. 4
The document also cites a pre-trial services report, showing Ridenour:
- has a prior conviction for domestic violence-related misdemeanor criminal damage
- has previously violated a protective order
- has been accused of vandalizing an ex-girlfriend’s vehicle
- has made threats to an ex-wife’s fiance over a child custody agreement
Douglas is a small mining town that sits directly on the US border. The block in which the churches are located is the only one in the U.S. with four churches, and includes a Lutheran and a Methodist church.
Pleas were due in the case on August 4, 2023. The matter goes to trial on August 22, 2023.
The government’s motion for pre-trial detention is provided below.
Photo courtesy Episcopal News Service