PANOLA, Ala. (AP) — The parents of a former Birmingham college student who pleaded guilty in a series of rural church arsons visited with the congregation of one burned church, asking for forgiveness and expressing his remorse.
"My son wants you to know how sorry he is," Mike Cloyd told members of Galilee Baptist Church in the Sumter County community of Panola on Sunday.
Mike and Kim Cloyd of Pelham are the parents of Matthew Cloyd, one of three former college students who pleaded guilty to federal charges in the church arsons. The couple spoke with the congregation, which is meeting in a trailer as its new church building is being constructed.
The Rev. Bob Little said he prays for solace for his congregation, the convicted arsonists and their families.
"We thank God for the opportunity to bring about some healing," Little said. "We need to embrace each other in times of trial."
The Cloyds said the visit to Galilee Baptist, where the congregation dedicated songs and hugged them in a two-hour service, is part of a pilgrimage to see the rural churches their son pleaded guilty to burning in February 2006.
Matthew Cloyd, 21, Benjamin Moseley, 20, and Russell DeBusk, 20, await sentencing on the federal pleas and also face state charges in the arson case.
The three met as students at Birmingham-Southern; Cloyd had transferred and was a UAB student at the time of the fires. Five were burned in Bibb County on Feb. 3; the others were in Greene, Pickens and Sumter counties on Feb. 7.
"I know your hearts were broken the night your church was burned," Kim Cloyd said. "But we love our son. We will not leave his side."
The Tuscaloosa News, which reported on the Sunday service, said Kim Cloyd expressed hope that one day her son will visit the church and its congregation. The Cloyds said they appreciated the warm welcome from church members and the minister.
Little walked with the Cloyds as they toured the new two-story church building that is under construction.
Church members said they were happy to see progress made late last week when nearly 100 carpenters, plumbers and electricians volunteered their skills for two days.
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