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Documents: Woman held in church fire showed up at services

A woman charged with setting fire to a prominent church attended by Gov. Kay Ivey showed up at services before the blaze, raising suspicions with odd actions and a comment about the “rich white men” who had led the congregation, federal court documents show.

About two weeks before fires were discovered at First Baptist Church of Montgomery early on Sept. 30, a custodian and security officer saw a woman with long hair leave the church and return a few hours later with short hair, according to a sworn statement by a federal investigator. She asked about the church’s cameras, requested a tour and commented on past ministers being “rich white men,” the statement said.

A few days before the fire, after a Sunday service, pastor Mark Bethea talked with the woman and ultimately escorted her away, the investigator said.

The same woman showed up again during a Wednesday night service just hours before fires that investigators say were intentionally set caused $25,000 in damage in the sanctuary and an office area. One man saw her carrying two blue bags and silver food containers into the church but believed she was coming in for an international club.

Church security obtained a license plate number that matched Xiaoquin Yan, 27. She was arrested this week on state arson charges. A search of her home turned up duffel bags and cans like those seen in her car outside the church, the statement said, along with a handgun and ammunition and other items, including a gas can.

Surveillance video showed someone later identified as Yan using what appeared to be gasoline to set fires, which caused extensive smoke damage but didn’t spread far enough to ignite the building, records showed.

The statement by Richard Maddox, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was used to charge Yan with the federal offense of setting the fire.

Court records don’t include the name of an attorney for Yan, a Chinese national who allegedly remained in the country illegally after a student visa expired. She is jailed with bail set at $150,000. A judge has ordered a mental evaluation and treatment if needed.

Authorities haven’t disclosed a motive in the fire and it’s unclear whether Yan was aware the governor was a member of the church. Ivey released a statement expressing sorrow for the damage to her church.

Yan has made an initial appearance in state court, telling the judge she had been in contact with the public defender’s office about legal representation, court documents show.

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