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Prosecutors in Douglas arson case point to homophobic, sexist remarks as motive

2 historic churches in Douglas destroyed in fire
Posted at 4:02 PM, Jul 09, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Prosecutors spent the day showing the jury detective work that they say points to Eric Ridenour as the arsonist who burned two historic churches in Douglas. Prosecutors say he thought it broke God’s law that First Presbyterian has a female pastor and St Stephen's had a pastor who is gay.

Testimony from a Federal arson inspector showed how she traced the start of the fire at First Presbyterian to a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid.  

A Home Depot security manager took the stand and showed a store video of a man who looked like Eric Ridenour buying that same sort of fluid about two months before the fire.

Surveillance video from a daycare near the churches showed a car that matched Ridenour’s, then a man walking toward the churches, then running back to the car as smoke appeared over St Stephen’s.

“When you’re watching the surveillance video where he goes off screen and you know he’s setting the fire at St Stephen's, you know that’s the moment the fire was set and this whole chain of events went into action that resulted in the destruction of our church,”  Right Reverend Jennifer Reddall, the Episcopal bishop who oversees that church, said.

The federal arson investigator showed the lighter and bottle of charcoal lighter fluid that they said started and spread the fire in First Presbyterian.

“I think it’s important that people be held accountable for their actions,” Reddall said. “I disagree vehemently with him about his beliefs, but I would never set his church on fire.”


Prosecutors in Douglas arson case point to homophobic, sexist remarks as motive

Craig Smith is a reporter for KGUN 9. With more than 40 years of reporting in cities like Tampa, Houston and Austin, Craig has covered more than 40 Space Shuttle launches and covered historic hurricanes like Katrina, Ivan, Andrew and Hugo. Share your story ideas and important issues with Craig by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.