Texas State student accused of setting fire to Austin synagogue arrested

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Arson investigators with the Austin Fire Department arrested a man Wednesday who is accused of intentionally setting fire to an Austin synagogue on Halloween night.

Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18, is suspected of using an accelerant near the sanctuary doors of Congregation Beth Israel to ignite the flames, causing an estimated $25,000 in damage, according to AFD. Texas State University on Thursday confirmed to KXAN Sechriest is one of its students.

“We will continue to assist the FBI and Austin Fire Department in the ongoing investigation that led to the arrest of Texas State University student Franklin Barrett Sechriest for the arson attack that damaged the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Austin on Oct. 31,” Texas State said in a statement.

The university went on to say it “decries this hateful act of bigotry and violence and all the antisemitic events perpetrated recently in Austin, San Antonio, and San Marcos.”

“The Texas State University community stands in solidarity with our Jewish students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members who have been impacted.”

Texas state university statement

An arrest affidavit for Sechriest said surveillance video showed a dark-colored Jeep enter the north parking lot around 9 p.m. the night of the fire. The driver, described as a “tall thin white male with dark hair” got out of the car carrying what seemed to be a heavy green jug.

Congregation Beth Israel fire
The Austin Fire Department tweeted this photo of a fire started outside a synagogue in central Austin. (Austin Fire Department/Twitter)

The affidavit said the man walks out of camera view toward the area where the fire started. A couple minutes after 9 p.m., the video shows the fire being ignited from four different camera angles.

That’s when the suspect returns within view of the cameras, running back to the Jeep and driving away, the affidavit said.

CBI gave investigators past surveillance footage from Oct. 28, showing what appears to be the same Jeep visiting the synagogue parking lot and leaving, according to the affidavit. They were able to capture the Jeep’s license plate number from the footage and track down the SUV’s owner in San Marcos.

While the Jeep wasn’t registered to Sechriest, he lived with the person who it was registered to, and investigators found that Sechriest fit the description of the suspect seen in surveillance videos.

Siechriest is listed as having bonded out of the Travis County jail. We went to the address listed for Sechriest in the affidavit. A light was on, but no one answered when we knocked.

A neighbor we spoke with didn’t know Sechriest, but he says he saw the Federal Bureau of Investigation outside the house Wednesday.

“Not every day you see feds across the street,” said Isaac Saucedo.

Senior Rabbi Steve Folberg of Congregation Beth Israel released a statement about the arrest to KXAN:

“We are grateful to the authorities including the Austin Fire Department, Austin Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their diligent and persistent work investigating this hateful, antisemitic act. It gives us some sense of relief to learn of this arrest, but we are staying vigilant. Across Central Texas and beyond, we are seeing a spike in attacks against Jews. We denounce all acts of bigotry and violence, especially those motivated by blind hatred of any of the proud and distinctive communities that enrich our civic life. We will remain strong and vigilant in the ongoing work of justice, safety and peace for ourselves and all our neighbors.”

Rabbi Folberg also said they are grateful to Shalom Austin, Anti-Defamation League Austin, the Austin community and people around the world for their support.

“Our emotions are a work in progress. Anything you can imagine somebody might feel to in this case, someone literally trying to burn a synagogue down,” he said. “Every one of these incidents elicits concern and a sense of being sort of wounded or violated.”

Austin Fire said this is an ongoing, joint investigation alongside the FBI. The agency did not comment further on the crime.

You can donate to Congregation Beth Israel online to help with repairs.

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