Suspect accused of setting fire to Austin synagogue on Halloween arrested

Authorities have arrested a man who is believed to have intentionally set fire to a synagogue in Austin, Texas, on Halloween night.

The suspect, Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18, is accused of using an accelerant near the sanctuary doors of Congregation Beth Israel to set the building on fire, causing an estimated $25,000 in damage, arson investigators with the Austin Fire Department said.


Local news outlet KXAN-TV reported that an arrest affidavit for Sechriest said surveillance video showed a dark-colored Jeep enter the north parking lot of the synagogue around 9 p.m. on Oct. 31. The driver, described as a “tall thin white male with dark hair,” exited the vehicle carrying what appeared to be a heavy green jug.

The affidavit said the man walked out of view of the camera toward the place where the fire started. Minutes later, the video shows a fire being ignited from four different camera angles.

Then, the suspect returns within view of the cameras, runs back to the Jeep, and drives away, the affidavit said.

Congregation Beth Israel gave investigators surveillance footage from Oct. 28 that appeared to show the same Jeep visiting the synagogue parking lot and then leaving. Authorities were able to learn the Jeep's license plate number from the footage and tracked down the vehicle 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,” KXAN reported.

Following the suspect's arrest, senior Rabbi Steve Folberg of Congregation Beth Israel gave a statement to the media:

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 added the congregation is grateful to Shalom Austin, Anti-Defamation League Austin, the Austin community, and people around the world for their outpouring of support following the arson incident.

Austin Fire is conducting an ongoing investigation alongside the FBI and did not comment further to KXAN-TV.

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