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Crime & Justice

Austin authorities arrest 18-year-old San Marcos man for antisemitic arson at Congregation Beth Israel

Police officers and local spiritual and political leaders attend a press conference Nov. 1 to support the Jewish community after Austin saw a series of antisemitic incidents.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Police officers and local spiritual and political leaders attend a press conference Nov. 1 to support the Jewish community after Austin saw a series of antisemitic incidents.

Authorities say they've arrested a San Marcos man they believe set fire to an Austin synagogue on Halloween night.

The Austin Fire Department says 18-year-old Franklin Barrett Sechriest set the fire, which investigators previously said was an act of antisemitism, according to an arrest affidavit.

Sechriest was booked in Travis County Jail on Wednesday just after 5 p.m. and charged with arson with intent to damage a place of worship, a first-degree felony. His bail was set at $100,000, but he's since been released on a personal bond.

Investigators say Sechriest was seen on Congregation Beth Israel's surveillance footage just after 9 p.m. Halloween night carrying a 5-gallon jug outside the synagogue.

He was off-camera when the fire was started, but AFD says he was then seen running to a 2021 Jeep Cherokee and driving off. Beth Israel shared with the department additional footage that showed a similar Jeep and a man matching Sechriest's description outside its preschool building on Oct. 28.

Officials say the fire caused at least $25,000 worth of damage to the Central Austin synagogue.

A series of antisemitic acts and demonstrations has occurred in Austin over the last three weeks.

The spate of hateful demonstrations started late last month, when an out-of-state neo-Nazi group draped antisemitic banners off the overpass at MoPac and Far West Boulevard, not far from the Dell Jewish Community Center. The same group also set a swastika-shaped fire in one of its recent livestreams, but it's not immediately clear whether Sechriest was affiliated with that group.

In a statement after the arrest, Congregation Beth Israel's Senior Rabbi Steve Folberg said the arrest provided some relief, but that the community is "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," Folberg said. "We will remain strong and vigilant in the ongoing work of justice, safety and peace for ourselves and all our neighbors."

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