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Texas church fire suspects appear in court

Daniel McAllister, left, and Jason Bourque are charged in one fire and are suspected in others, authorities say.
Daniel McAllister, left, and Jason Bourque are charged in one fire and are suspected in others, authorities say.
  • Jason Robert Bourque and Daniel George McAllister face 99 years
  • Pastor of church they attended tells KLTV one was quiet, the other "mischievous"
  • Call to a tip hot line led to the arrests, ATF says
  • Two men charged with arson in connection with one Texas church fire

(CNN) -- Wearing red jail coveralls and grim expressions, two suspects who authorities believe are responsible for a string of church fires in east Texas appeared in court Monday.

Jason Robert Bourque, 19, and Daniel George McAllister, 21, are charged with one count of arson each in connection with a fire set at Dover Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, on February 8.

The blaze was one of 10 church fires in east Texas this year. Nine have been ruled arson. Authorities said Sunday they believe Bourque and McAllister are responsible for the deliberately set blazes. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told reporters the two are also suspects in attempted break-ins at three churches earlier this month.

The single charge is a first-degree felony, punishable upon conviction by up to 99 years in prison, District Court Judge Christi Kennedy told McAllister on Monday.

McAllister communicated with Kennedy mainly by nodding and shaking his head during the appearance Monday, but told her he and his family do not have money to hire an attorney. Kennedy appointed an attorney for him.

Bourque gave soft answers to Kennedy's questions. He appeared with an attorney and did not need one appointed for him.

Kennedy continued the $10 million bond for both, who acknowledged they understood the charge against them.

Video: 2 held in church arson case

A federal law enforcement source told CNN that multiple pieces of evidence have been linked to one of the suspects through DNA, and that many of the fires were ignited the same way.

Bourque and McAllister are former members of First Baptist Church in Ben Wheeler, Texas, church pastor Carlton Young told CNN affiliate KLTV.

"Daniel was a very quiet young man," Young said. "Jason, at that time, was a little mischievous."

He told KLTV that he lives next door to the church and several years ago, his wife spotted Bourque and McAllister going into the church one night after midnight. Both had backpacks on, he said. They went into a side door of the church and emerged about an hour later with lollipops in their mouths. Young said nothing was broken or taken and he did not think anything suspicious about the incident.

David McAllister, Daniel's father, also spoke to KLTV. He said his son was "a good kid," but his behavior began to change following the death of his mother about three years ago.

"In the last couple of weeks, I had that feeling that something was not quite right," the elder McAllister told the station. He said he had even suspected his son might have something to do with the fires until authorities released sketches of three people earlier this month. The sketches, he said, did not resemble his son.

KLTV reported that Bourque's family declined to comment, saying only that the situation "was in God's hands."

Bourque occasionally attended youth Bible studies at Christ Central Church in Lindale, Texas, church member Austin Johnson told KLTV. He said Bourque was "brilliant" and "very kind" and was very knowledgeable about the Bible.

"Expecting him to do something like this would have never crossed my mind," Johnson said.

Investigators first became aware of the suspects about two weeks ago, and had been trying since then to build a case against them, said Thomas Crowley, special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A call from a tip hotline led to the arrests, the bureau has said.

Crowley had no information on a possible motive, but said authorities have been interviewing the two since their arrest.