Photo Credit: Austin Fire Department.
Photo of the man suspected of setting a fire at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 31, 2021.

An 18-year-old was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly setting a fire in front of a synagogue in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 31 amid a rising number of anti-Semitic incidents in the city over the last few weeks.

According to Austin Fire arson investigators, Franklin Barrett Sechreist of San Marcos, Texas, was seen on video carrying a gas canister outside of Congregation Beth Israel. Authorities say he poured accelerant on the front entry of the building and set it ablaze.

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He was also filmed driving past the synagogue a few days before the fire.

“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, anti-Semitic act,” said the synagogue’s senior rabbi, Steve Folberg.

Franklin Barrett Sechriest

“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 in a statement. “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.”

While no one was injured, Folberg said that damage was “extensive” and included the destruction of “historic doors,” in addition to damage to the building’s exterior and to a stained-glass window. Additionally, “there is extensive smoke damage to our sanctuary, and remediation and restoration will take significant time and expense.”

Also this week, hate-filled fliers including one that said, “Fight Terror Nuke Israel,” were found in a park in Austin less than a mile from the synagogue.

In response to the spate of anti-Semitic incidents, a coalition of groups is planning to hold a “kindness rally” on Sunday afternoon on the steps of the state capital.

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