The Knuckleheads of the Day award
Today's winners are Benjamin Nathan Moseley, Russell Lee DeBusk Jr. and Matthew Lee Cloyd. They have been arrested and charged with setting a series of church fires. Nine in all. It all supposedly started as a joke. Just unbelievable behavior, and all three of these young men were college students. A college education doesn't necessarily mean one is smart and this is Exhibit A. For destroying houses of worship for no reason, Benjamin Mosely, Russell DeBusk and Matthew Cloyd are today's Knuckleheads of the day.
Open Post- Jo's Cafe, Outside The Beltway,
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After five tense weeks charged by a random series of nine backwoods church burnings, investigators Wednesday arrested three Birmingham college students, including two aspiring actors known around campus as pranksters, who allegedly set the first fire as "a joke."
The arrests relieved and perplexed churchgoers throughout Alabama's rolling Black Belt, leaving them to wonder why three young men from upscale Birmingham suburbs would want to torch churches for kicks.
"We're just relieved. It means this round of church burnings has shut down," said Jim Parker, pastor of the leveled Ashby Baptist Church, in Brierfield, a tiny community about 50 miles southwest of Birmingham. "But it's inexplicable to me. You look at what they left, and the hurt done to a lot of hearts, and you wonder, 'Why?' "
Benjamin Nathan Moseley and Russell Lee DeBusk Jr., both 19-year-old theater students at Birmingham-Southern College, appeared in federal court and were ordered held on church arson charges pending a hearing Friday.
Matthew Lee Cloyd, 20, was arrested later Wednesday, according to U.S. Attorney Alice Martin. Cloyd is a junior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who previously attended Birmingham-Southern.
Moseley is from Birmingham, DeBusk from Hoover and Cloyd from Indian Springs, both upscale suburbs of Alabama's largest city.
An affidavit from Walker Johnson, special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Moseley told agents that he, Cloyd and DeBusk went to Bibb County in Cloyd's green Toyota sport utility vehicle on Feb. 2 and set fire to two churches.
"Moseley said that after they set fire to the first two churches they saw firetrucks driving by. Moseley said that after that, burning the other three churches became too spontaneous," according to Johnson's sworn statement.
A witness quoted Cloyd as saying Moseley did it "as a joke and it got out of hand," according to the affidavit.
Moseley also told agents the four church fires in west Alabama were set "as a diversion to throw investigators off," but the attempt "obviously did not work," the affidavit said.
The agent said tire tracks found at the scene of six church fires matched the type of tires on Cloyd's Toyota: a BF Goodrich All Terrain model.
Regional ATF head Jim Cavanaugh, at a news conference in Tuscaloosa, declined to discuss specifics but noted the evidence spelled out in the affidavit, including the tire evidence.
A former student at Birmingham-Southern said she was "shocked" when she heard that Moseley and DeBusk were arrested for the church burnings. She often saw Moseley playing his guitar around campus, she said, describing DeBusk as "pretty laid back."
"I was shocked," said Jana Wright, 19, who transferred to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa during her freshman year. "What they did was horrible, but completely unlike the people I knew. They never expressed anything that was anti-religious."
All three suspects are white and either attend or previously were enrolled at Birmingham-Southern, a Methodist-affiliated liberal arts college. All the churches were Baptist, four of them predominantly white, five of them predominantly black. A 10th rural Baptist church fire, in Lamar County, has been ruled arson but is not believed to be connected to the others. It was discovered on Feb. 11.
Five of the churches were destroyed and four were damaged. Most plan to rebuild.