Texas State student charged in Austin synagogue fire on Halloween

Amira Van Leeuwen | Staff Reporter

SAN MARCOS – Austin Fire Department Arson Investigators have charged Franklin Barrett Sechriest, San Marcos resident and student at Texas State University, in connection with a fire set at a synagogue in central Austin on Oct 31.

Sechriest was arrested Nov. 10 on state arson charges related to the fire. Federal authorities say the fire caused more than $250,000 worth of damage to the synagogue. He also faces a federal arson charge.

Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18. Photo courtesy of the Austin Fire Department.

According to an arrest affidavit, surveillance footage showed a dark-colored Jeep, later identified as a 2021 black Jeep Cherokee, enter the north parking lot. The driver walked up to the Beth Israel front admin entrance carrying a green container, similar in size, shape and color to a green 5-gallon VP Racing Fuel utility.

Footage showed the driver exiting the vehicle heading in a direction toward the north area where the fire started. Investigators observed the ignition of the fire and the driver running back toward the vehicle before speeding off.

The front license plate was clearly visible in the surveillance video, which was registered to a resident of San Marcos and mother of the suspect, Nicole Sechriest. 

On Nov. 8, law enforcement personnel observed Franklin driving the Jeep Cherokee, matching the physical description from Beth Israel surveillance cameras.

Secrhiest made his first appearance in federal court Nov. 15. If convicted of the charge alleged in the complaint, Sechriest faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

In a news release, U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff said, “Arson at a sacred place of worship shakes the very foundations of our society.”

Photo credited to the United States District Courts

According to unsealed federal documents, three days before setting the fire, the San Marcos teenager wrote “Scout out a target,” in a journal.

Several days later, Sechriest, who at the time,was a private in the Texas National guard at the time, wrote in his journal again. 

“I set a synagogue on fire,” the court documents said.

In his journals, the 18-year-old casually used the N-word alongside other things like getting matched on the dating app Tinder and eating at Buffalo Wild Wings. Federal authorities said they also discovered anti-Semitic entries in his journal and anti-Semitic stickers. 

The fire occurred at Beth Israel Synagogue located at 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd at 9:05 pm.

Rabbi Steve Folberg said they are grateful to the authorities of the Austin Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their “diligent and persistent work.”

Stickers found in Sechriest’s possession embracing antisemitic views. Courtesy photo

“It gives us some sense of relief to learn of this arrest, but we are staying vigilant,” Rabbi Folberg said.

Texas State University President Denise Trauth sent an email to faculty, students and staff condemning all forms of bigotry and hate. 

“Our university community stands in solidarity with our Jewish family members, friends, classmates, colleagues, and neighbors who have been impacted by such despicable actions,” the email read.

Those who wish to donate to help support the Beth Israel Congregation may do so on their website.

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  1. While I’ve no beef with the Catholics, the tide of attacks on Catholic Church properties in
    the U.S. does not appear to be turning. A recent report from the United Conference of
    Catholic Bishops cites 95 incidents across 29 states since May 2020. These include arson,
    vandalized statues, and damage to church buildings and, in some cases, attempted murder.

    Indeed, about half of all the fires at houses of worship in the past 20 years were intentionally
    set according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the ATF. Of the 4,705 reported fire
    incidents at houses of worship between 1996 and 2015, 2,378, or 51%, had been ruled intentional.

    In 2010, eleven churches across East Texas, the majority being Baptist, were burned down. The
    rash of arsons over a five-week period from January to February that year put communities like
    Tyler, Athens and Lindale on edge. Some churches resorted to having volunteers spend the night
    at their congregations to try and prevent them from burning too. Two young friends Daniel McAllister
    and Jason Borque were eventually arrested for the crimes, pleaded guilty and were given life sentences.

    Meanwhile, the concrete floor of an entrance to a jewish place of worship in Austin has sustained
    slight brown stains allegedly due to an amateur arsonist. Maybe we can get some close-up
    photos next in a fabulous series of stories published on this novel and outrageous event.

  2. Janna, you quote various research studies on vandalism for some denominations but you cite no such research study related to vandalism of synagogues, you just reference one example. Nice try…

  3. Michael, you say that I “ quote various research studies on vandalism for some denominations but
    you cite no such research study related to vandalism of synagogues, you just reference one example

    My comment contained three specific examples: Catholic, Baptist and Jewish.

    There are about 4.2 million American adults who say they are Jewish by religion, representing 1.8 % of
    the U.S. adult population. The first five pages of a Google search under “synagogue arson” provides at
    least forty worldwide stories concerning ‘the FBI suspected arsonist who set fire to an Austin synagogue.’

    In comparison with your comment that quotes nothing and accuses me of everything. ” Nice try… “

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