AFD

Austin Fire Department on the scene of the fire on Oct. 31, 2021, at Congregation Beth Israel. Investigators say the fire was intentionally set by Franklin Barrett Sechriest, an 18-year-old criminal justice freshman at Texas State.

Trigger warning: This article features discussion of anti-Semitic acts. 

A Texas State student was federally charged with arson after allegedly setting an intentional fire at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Austin, according to U.S. District Court records.

Austin Fire Department Arson investigators deemed the fire was intentionally set around 9 p.m. on Oct. 31. Franklin Barrett Sechriest, the 18-year-old charged with the crime, is a criminal justice freshman at Texas State.

The FBI was authorized to search and seizure Sechriest's San Marcos residence and vehicle on Nov. 10. The report states investigators found a credit card with the same account number as a card used at a sporting goods store in Buda, Texas to purchase a five-gallon VP Racing Fuel utility jug. 

After searching the vehicle, investigators say they recovered three glass bottles, three bottles of lighter fluid, a lighter and an orange stormproof match case with matches. Investigators also found three anti-Semitic stickers in the vehicle.

Sechriest's journal was also found with a statement “I set a synagogue on fire” under an entry dated Oct. 31, 2021.

Investigators identified burn patterns consistent with the use of a liquid accelerant. Surveillance footage overlooking the synagogue's administration office reveals Sechriest wearing a face covering and carrying a container similar to a five-gallon VP Racing Fuel utility jug and a roll of toilet paper, according to court records.

That same Halloween weekend, residents throughout Hays County reported receiving anti-Semitic letters in plastic bags with pebbles. Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra issued a series of tweets condemning the letters and said the behavior was not acceptable.

In a statement to The University Star, Texas State said it will continue to assist the FBI and Austin Fire Department in the ongoing investigation involving Sechriest. 

"Our university decries this hateful act of bigotry and violence and all the anti-Semitic 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 said in its statement.

Investigators say the fire caused $25,000 worth of damages to the synagogue. The fire destroyed the synagogue's historic doors and caused damage to the building's exterior along with its stained-glass windows. No one was injured from the fire. 

In a public statement, Congregation Beth Israel Senior Rabbi Steve Folberg said the synagogue is grateful to the Austin Fire Department, Austin Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for investigating the incident. 

“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," Folberg said. "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." 

The Congregation Beth Israel is accepting donations to assist with the damages. For more information visit its website

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health resources visit the Blue Dove Foundation.

The University Star will provide updates as they become available.

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