Two arrests have been made in church arsons

Two 21-year-old Smiths Station men have been arrested in a rash of church arsons and vandalism in Lee and Russell counties, with satanic graffiti scrawled at two churches, authorities announced Monday.

‘‘These guys called themselves professed spiritual satanists,’’ said Russell County Sheriff Tommy Boswell.

State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk identified the two as Geoffrey Parquette and James Clark, both of Smiths Station in Lee County. Boswell said the two were not part of any organized group, but had known each other a long time and dabbled in satanism.

Parquette is charged with three counts of second-degree arson, three counts of third-degree burglary and two counts of first-degree criminal mischief in Russell and Lee counties. Clark is charged with second-degree arson and burglary in Lee County.

A fire New Year’s Day damaged the Greater Peace and Goodwill AME Church in Crawford in Russell County; a fire early Thursday destroyed Greater Bethelpore Baptist Church in Smiths Station; and a fire Friday morning damaged the Woodland Baptist Church in Phenix City.

A statement released by authorities Tuesday said Woodland Baptist Church also was vandalized, with satanic gaffiti inside the church. The statement said a graveyard beside Bethelpore Baptist Church was vandalized and that satanic graffiti was painted in a fourth church, Concord Baptist in Salem.

Derrick Millirons, the Sunday School director at Woodland Baptist, said the vandals not only set a fire in the church sanctuary, but also painted "Teach children to worship Satan" on the wall of a children's classroom, and slashed tires and broke windshields on two church vans parked outside. The damage to the vans is estimated at about $1,700, Millirons said. He said the church has yet to get an exact estimate on damage to the building, though he and the Rev. Bobby Watford felt it was extensive.

A task force of federal, state and local authorities was formed to investigate the arsons last week, with officials acting quickly in the wake of another string of church fires two years ago. Those deliberately set fires at rural Alabama churches led to a major federal-state investigation and the arrest of three Birmingham college students.

In February 2006, nine churches in isolated areas of central and west Alabama were set ablaze. Benjamin Nathan Moseley and Russell Lee DeBusk Jr., both 19 at the time, and Matthew Lee Cloyd, 20, were arrested and eventually pleaded guilty. The three admitted setting five churches in Bibb County on fire on a night of drinking and illegal hunting on country roads, then Cloyd and Moseley torched four more chures in west Alabama in an attempt to divert investigators.

Cloyd and Moseley were sentenced to eight years in federal prison and two years in state prison, while DeBusk was sentenced to seven years in federal prison and two in state prison.