March 09, 2006 05:00 PM

As more is learned about the three young men charged with setting a string of fires to nine Baptist churches across Alabama, the more bewildered those people close to the suspects have become.

Two of the suspects, Benjamin Nathan Moseley and Russell Lee DeBusk Jr., both 19, are students at Birmingham-Southern College, while the third suspect, Matthew Lee Cloyd, 20, attends the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dr. David Pollick, president of Birmingham-Southern, said in a statement both men had been suspended and were barred from campus, the Associated Press reports. Pollick called the attacks “mindless cruelty.”

“This is not Birmingham-Southern,” Pollick said, WSFA-TV reports in Alabama. “It is not the character of the students who are here. It shocked me.”

Fellow students appeared equally confused by the charges against the men, particularly Moseley and DeBusk, who were promising amateur actors and pranksters.

“In the theater, you’re a very tight-knit community and they were a part of that community,” said Birmingham-Southern student Martin Landry. “We were very good friends.”

Moseley and DeBusk had both performed in campus plays as well as a documentary film. Their arrest came on the day when both were featured in the campus newspaper for their acting efforts.

Cloyd, the third suspect, was formerly a student at Birmingham-Southern but transferred last year to UAB.

Cloyd’s father, a physician, told authorities that his son admitted to being present when the fires were set. “He knew who did it and he was there,” Michael Cloyd said in an affidavit, AP reports.

The suspects, who are currently in jail, have been charged with conspiracy and setting fire to a single church, Ashby Baptist. Each charge carries a minimum sentence of five years, and more charges are possible.

However, the attacks don’t appear to have been racially or religiously motivated Alabama Governor Bob Riley said.

“The faith-based community can rest a little easier,” he said.

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