Photo Credit: Courtesy of Austin Fire Department
Franklin Barrett Sechriest, Texas student accused of setting fire to Austin synagogue.

The FBI believes that Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18, a student at Texas State University in San Marcos used a five-gallon fuel container and a roll of toilet paper to start a fire outside Congregation Beth Israel at 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd, Austin, last Halloween night. According to FBI special agent Thomas Joy Jr., security footage shows Sechriest carrying the container and the roll to the synagogue’s doors then disappearing from the view of the camera which shortly thereafter shows the glow of a fire.

A motion for detention was filed and Sechriest will be held without bail.


The affidavit filed by Agent Joy says the authorities discovered that the suspect’s American Express card was used on September 6 to buy a five-gallon VP Racing Fuel utility jug. A search of his car yielded three 33-ounce glass bottles, three 32-ounce bottles of lighter fluid, a lighter, and storm-proof matches. Joy noted that these items are used to make Molotov cocktails.

So the boy was through. He was also meticulous: his journal includes an October 28 note saying, “scout out a target,” and, indeed, surveillance footage provided by the synagogue shows Sechriest’s vehicle, a black 2021 Jeep Cherokee, in the synagogue’s parking lot that night. Then there’s the journal entry dated October 31, declaring, in different colored ink: “I set a synagogue on fire.”

The feds have not yet decided whether to charge Sechriest with a hate crime. The FBI’s definition of a hate crime is “a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

A series of recent anti-Semitic incidents around Central Texas was condemned by a coalition of interfaith leaders and local politicians in early November. Simone Talma Flowers, the executive director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas, read at a press conference from a statement signed by more than 500 locals, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler and all 10 of his City Council colleagues: “Hateful acts of intimidation to incite violence is unacceptable, and we will not be silent. We stand united with our Jewish community as they are targeted and victimized by acts of anti-Semitism.”

DOJ official Charlie Baird told KXAN that “it’s very rare for an individual to be charged with a hate crime against a structure versus a hate crime against an individual.”

Congregation Beth Israel’s sanctuary. / Congregation Beth Israel on Facebook

The synagogue published an appeal for donations to repair the arson damage: “On October 31, 2021, someone tried to burn down our synagogue. A suspect is now in custody. Thanks to a passing driver calling 911, Austin Fire Department was able to show up quickly and extinguish the fire. The damage was extensive, including the destruction of our historic doors and damage to the exterior of our building and our stained glass windows you see above. Unfortunately, there is extensive smoke damage to our sanctuary and remediation and restoration will take significant time and expense.”


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