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San Marcos man accused of setting fire to an Austin synagogue indicted

A person holds a sign that says "Texas is a no-hate zone."
Gabriel C. Pérez
People held a "Rally for Kindness" at the Texas Capitol on Nov. 14 in response to a recent spike in antisemitic incidents in Austin, including a fire set to Congregation Beth Israel.

The U.S. Department of Justice says a San Marcos man has been charged for allegedly setting fire to an Austin synagogue on Oct. 31. Nineteen-year-old Franklin Barrett Sechriest was handed down a three-count indictment on Wednesday from a federal grand jury.

According to court records, surveillance footage allegedly shows Sechriest carrying a 5-gallon container and toilet paper to Congregation Beth Israel’s sanctuary. He was off camera when the fire started. Video then shows the man who is believed to be Sechriest fleeing the scene and driving off in a 2021 Jeep Cherokee.

Officials say the fire caused at least $25,000 in damages to the Central Austin synagogue. The incident was part of a handful of hateful demonstrations that occurred in Austin and other major Texas cities. Last September, a neo-Nazi group from out of state draped antisemitic banners off the overpass at MoPac and Far West Boulevard, near the Dell Jewish Community Center. Officials are not clear if Sechriest was affiliated with that group.

Investigators, who previously called the fire an act of antisemitism, found other pieces of evidence linking Sechriest to the October crime. That includes a receipt for a 5-gallon container and handwritten journals containing statements related to the synagogue fire.

Sechriest has been in federal custody since his arrest on Nov. 12. He’s been charged with one count of damage to religious property, one count of arson and one count of use of fire to commit a federal crime. If convicted, Sechriest faces up to 30 years in prison for one of the charges, while the other two carry maximum sentences of 10 and 20 years.

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Lauren Terrazas is the Morning Edition newscast host at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @_laterrazas.
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