/ Modified jul 5, 2023 9:25 p.m.

Man charged with two felony counts in connection with Douglas church fires

He could face up to 20-years in prison.

St Stephens Episcopal Church St. Stephen's Episcopal Church was extensively damaged by a fire that authorities say was intentionally started Monday.
Summer Hom, AZPM

A man alleged to have set fire to two historic churches in Douglas in May was indicted on two felony counts of arson, court records show. Eric Duane Ridenour remains in custody prior to his trial as he was determined to be "a danger to the community," according to the Order of Detention signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Lynnette Kimmins on June 16.

According to the complaint filed by Nathan Skidmore, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Ridenour was caught on a surveillance camera from a daycare on the same block as the churches around 10:40 a.m. on May 22 parking west of Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church, which is located on the corner of 11th Street and D Avenue. Ridenour was reportedly seen walking along the north wall of the building until he was out of view of the camera. Two minutes later, Ridenour appeared walking along the south wall back toward his car.

Ridenour was then reportedly seen on camera walking southeast over to the adjacent First Presbyterian Church, located on the same block at the corner of 10th Street and D Avenue. He entered between the church’s hall and classroom, which is out of view of the camera. Around four minutes later, Ridenour is said to re-appear on camera and is seen jogging along the west side of the classroom: he enters his car while smoke can be seen coming from the two-story uninhabited residence attached to Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church.

While the Douglas Fire Department responded to the fire at Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church, smoke started coming out of the First Presbyterian church next door. The fires at both churches continued to re-ignite throughout the evening of May 22 and into the next day. Both churches, the First Presbyterian Church built in 1906 and Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church built in 1901, suffered severe structural damage according to the complaint filed by the ATF.

At the First Presbyterian Church, the ATF found most of the damage concentrated at the altar and the northwest side of the building, which collapsed into the basement. Investigators found a bottle of lighter fluid behind the offering table near the altar along with remnants of lighters. The roof of the First Presbyterian Church collapsed on May 23.

Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church was almost completely destroyed, with only the arched entrance and parts of the walls around the building remaining. The roof of Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church was completely burned and destroyed. Special Agents with the ATF, the FBI, and the Douglas Police Department served a search warrant at Ridenour's residence on May 23 and a canine unit detected accelerants on Ridenour’s clothing, in his home, and car.

Ridenour still awaits trial, but court documents indicate his motive was related to his dislike of women and members of the LGBTQ in leadership positions in the church. Ridenour, who's a resident of Douglas and former parishioner of the Calvary Church in Bisbee, is noted to have left the church and sought another place to worship according to the memorandum filed by the U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino in the government's motion to detain Ridenour prior to his trial. The pastor of Calvary Church was referenced in the memorandum stating that women sometimes lead prayer at that church. Ridenour told the pastor at Calvary Church that he didn't believe women "should be in positions of authority in the church."

Neighbors are quoted in the memorandum stating that Ridenour believes that the Bible forbids women and gay people from preaching. Records note that the pastor of Saint Stephan’s Episcopal Church is openly gay and the co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church is a woman.

Ridenour was also noted to have talked with the pastor of Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church in 2021 while on a search for a new place to worship. He reportedly took photos of the church's interior, asked the pastor of the Episcopal church about its political views, asked if women could lead prayer at the church, and asked questions about women and gay people's participation in both politics and religion. "The defendant stated he would not attend church with a gay pastor," according to the memorandum.

Ridenour was indicted on June 22 and faces between five to 20 years in prison if convicted. His next court appearance is set for July 14.

Records show that Ridenour was convicted of a misdemeanor for criminal damage relating to a domestic violence incident with an ex-girlfriend, in which, Ridenour reportedly kicked down his ex-girlfriend's door after the two had separated.

Ridenour also has prior arrests related to threatening to beat up an ex-wife's fiancé regarding his refusal to abide by a child custody agreement, violating a protection order, and pouring sugar into another ex-girlfriend's gas tank.

By posting comments, you agree to our
AZPM encourages comments, but comments that contain profanity, unrelated information, threats, libel, defamatory statements, obscenities, pornography or that violate the law are not allowed. Comments that promote commercial products or services are not allowed. Comments in violation of this policy will be removed. Continued posting of comments that violate this policy will result in the commenter being banned from the site.

By submitting your comments, you hereby give AZPM the right to post your comments and potentially use them in any other form of media operated by this institution.
AZPM is a service of the University of Arizona and our broadcast stations are licensed to the Arizona Board of Regents who hold the trademarks for Arizona Public Media and AZPM. We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples.
The University of Arizona