College Student Charged in Arson at Texas Synagogue


An 18-year-old faculty pupil was charged with arson on Monday in an assault on a synagogue in Austin, Texas, on Halloween night time that triggered in depth injury to the constructing, the authorities mentioned.

Stickers with Nazi propaganda and swastikas on them have been recovered from the scholar, Franklin Barrett Sechriest, in accordance with an F.B.I. particular agent, who mentioned in a felony grievance that Mr. Sechriest wrote in regards to the arson in a journal that included racial slurs.

The goal of the assault, Congregation Beth Israel, a reform synagogue serving about 710 households, estimated that the injury exceeded $150,000.

“I set a synagogue on fire,” Mr. Sechriest, a pupil at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, wrote in the journal, in accordance with the grievance, which included images of the entries.

Security footage from the night time of the assault confirmed Mr. Sechriest carrying a five-gallon gas jug and a roll of bathroom paper towards the synagogue’s entrance, earlier than disappearing from view of the digital camera. The F.B.I. particular agent, Thomas P. Joy Jr., mentioned footage confirmed the distinct glow of a fireplace ignition moments later.

Mr. Sechriest’s face was lined in the video, however investigators mentioned that he had been driving the identical black 2021 Jeep Cherokee that had appeared on safety digital camera footage from three nights earlier when he canvassed the synagogue. The automobile’s license plate was seen in the footage.

Mr. Sechriest was a non-public in the Texas National Guard earlier than resigning earlier this month, the Guard confirmed in an e-mail on Monday. Richard Lyn Cofer II, a lawyer for Mr. Sechriest, didn’t instantly reply to cellphone and e-mail messages on Monday.

The federal authorities didn’t say whether or not Mr. Sechriest could be charged with a hate crime in the arson, which was a part of a recent series of antisemitic acts in the Austin area.

Rabbi Steven Folberg of Congregation Beth Israel mentioned on Monday that the constructing’s picket entrance doorways have been charred past restore.

“It’s like their home being attacked,” Rabbi Folberg mentioned, including that the constructing’s stained glass home windows have been lined in soot and one had been broken.

The rabbi mentioned that the arson occurred because the congregation was getting ready to host in-person Shabbat companies for the primary time because the coronavirus pandemic started. Now the constructing faces a prolonged cleanup.

“The sanctuary is not going to be available to us for some time,” Rabbi Folberg mentioned.

No one was injured in the fireplace, which the rabbi mentioned might need been worse. He credited a driver with recognizing the flames and calling 911, which he mentioned saved the synagogue.

Rabbi Folberg, who has been at Congregation Beth Israel for 30 years, mentioned that he initially puzzled if the fireplace had been a prank as a result of it occurred on Halloween. As the small print began to emerge from the safety digital camera footage and the F.B.I. report, the rabbi mentioned it turned disturbing.

“You start asking all kinds of questions about what’s going on in the life of somebody that would do something like this,” he mentioned.

Texas State University mentioned in an announcement that it was serving to the investigation.

“Our university decries this hateful act of bigotry and violence and all the antisemitic events perpetrated recently in Austin, San Antonio and San Marcos,” it mentioned. “The Texas State University community stands in solidarity with our Jewish students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members who have been impacted.”

Since the arson, the rabbi mentioned, folks from varied faiths have rallied across the congregation, contributing greater than $100,000 towards the cleanup.

At a rally outdoors the State Capitol in Austin on Sunday to advertise kindness and denounce acts of antisemitism, the rabbi mentioned that an imam from the North Austin Muslim Community Center expressed his solidarity — in extra than simply phrases.

“He took an envelope out of his robe and handed me a check that was raised by the mosque,” Rabbi Folberg mentioned.

The imam, Islam Mossaad, mentioned on Monday that the verify was for $5,000 however that what it stood for was extra important. He recalled a fire of unknown origin in 2017 that destroyed a mosque that was beneath development close to Lake Travis, which is outdoors of Austin.

“When any of us are attacked,” the imam mentioned, “all of us are attacked.”

Seamus Hughes contributed analysis.



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