Chinese Woman Convicted of Setting Fire to a Montgomery Church and Illegally Possessing a Firearm

Montgomery, Alabama – Yesterday, a federal jury in Montgomery convicted 29-year-old Xiaoqin Yan, a Chinese national, of arson and possession of a firearm by an illegal alien, announced United States Attorney Sandra J. Stewart.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, during the early morning hours of September 30, 2021, the Montgomery Fire Department (MFD) responded to a fire reported inside First Baptist Church Montgomery. The MFD was able to extinguish the blaze, but only after the church sustained significant damage.

Surveillance videos taken from inside the church the day before the fire showed a woman carrying duffel bags and a plastic bag into the church during its Wednesday night service. Just after 2:00 a.m. on September 30, video showed the same individual removing silver containers from one of her bags and igniting multiple fires around the building. Investigators identified the vehicle driven by the suspect and obtained a tag number linking the vehicle to Yan. Law enforcement also learned that, on multiple occasions before the fire, church employees encountered someone matching Yan’s description on the church’s campus. During one encounter, a staff member escorted her off of church property due to her odd behavior. Investigators ultimately identified Yan as the same person encountered by the staff and in the surveillance videos.

During Yan’s arrest at a residence in Montgomery on October 4, 2021, agents found duffel bags identical to the ones seen in the church surveillance videos, as well as clothing matching the type worn by the suspect, gas containers, starter logs, and lighters. Officers also found a handgun. At the time of the arson and her arrest, Yan was in the United States illegally due to overstaying her non-immigrant visa and, therefore, could not lawfully possess a firearm.

Following the June 7, 2023, verdict, Yan faces a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled for Yan in the coming months.