18-year-old suspect arrested in Austin synagogue arson case

A suspect was arrested in connection with an arson attack at an Austin synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, on October 31.

Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18, was arrested Wednesday by Austin Fire Department arson investigators. Investigators identified Sechriest using surveillance footage that showed the license plate of the car he allegedly used to get to the synagogue.

The fire, started on Halloween night, caused an estimated $ 25,000 damage to the building, according to the Austin Fire Department. According to a donation page on the synagogue’s website, the fire destroyed the synagogue’s carved wooden doors, damaged the building’s stained glass and caused smoke damage throughout the sanctuary.

The Austin Fire Department had asked the public to help identify the suspect, whom they described as a white male. The video showed the man carrying a 5-gallon drum, probably with the liquid accelerant used to set fire to the entrance to the synagogue.

The fire was the latest in a series of anti-Semitic incidents in the Austin area. On October 24, members of the Goyim Defense League, a neo-Nazi group, hung banners on an overpass near the local Jewish Community Center, as well as in several synagogues proclaiming “Vax the Jews.” Although the police removed the banner and the police broke up the demonstration around it, two days later an identical banner was hung at the same intersection. At the time, leaders of the Shalom Austin Jewish Community Center warned community members that the group could hold more demonstrations in the area in the coming days.

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists surround counter-protesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching with torches through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11, 2017 (credit: SHAY HORSE / NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES / JTA)

In a statement, Rabbi Steve Folberg, the chief rabbi of the Beth Israel Congregation, thanked investigators for their work on the case and pointed to a recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Texas.

“We are relieved to learn of this arrest, but we remain vigilant. In central Texas and beyond, we are seeing an increase in attacks on Jews, ”Folberg said.


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