Chinese woman sentenced for setting fire to Alabama church; here’s what happened

Published 1:13 pm Monday, March 25, 2024

A Chinese woman was sentenced last week to more than 8 years in prison for setting fire to an Alabama church and possessing a firearm illegally.

On Monday, Acting United States Attorney Jonathan S. Ross announced the sentencing of a Chinese national for arson and illegal firearm possession.

On Friday, a federal judge sentenced 30-year-old Xiaoqin Yan to 102 months in prison. Federal inmates are not eligible for parole.

According to court records and evidence presented at Yan’s June 2023 trial, on September 30, 2021, Yan entered a church in downtown Montgomery and ignited multiple fires inside the building.

The Montgomery Fire Department was able to extinguish the blaze, but only after the church sustained significant damage.

Evidence presented during the trial showed that Yan had multiple encounters with church staff prior to September 30 and had exhibited odd behavior.

When arresting Yan on October 4, 2021, agents found items identical to those seen on church surveillance videos, as well as clothing matching the type worn by Yan when setting the fires.

Officers also found a handgun. At the time of the arson and her arrest, Yan had overstayed her non-immigrant visa and, therefore, could not lawfully possess a firearm.

The Montgomery Fire/Rescue Bureau of Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigated this case, with assistance from the Montgomery Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys B. Chelsea Phillips and Brandon W. Bates prosecuted the case.