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18-year-old arrested in connection with synagogue fire

Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18, has been arrested in connection with the fire. (Austin Fire Department)

Austin Fire Department arson investigators have arrested an 18-year-old who they believe is connected to a fire at Congregation Beth Israel on Halloween night, causing an estimated $25,000 in damage.

Franklin Barrett Sechriest, of San Marcos, has been accused of intentionally setting fire to the synagogue, a first-degree felony, destroying its solid wooden doors. Sechriest was arrested on Wednesday and is being held on a $100,000 bond, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by KVUE.

AFD responded to a "small exterior fire" on 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd. around 9 p.m. on Oct. 31—the fire was extinguished and no injuries were reported. Surveillance footage picked up a white man, who is presumed to be Sechriest, wearing green pants, a face covering and carrying a "jerry can" container.

Broken glass indicated that something may have been thrown at the building and investigators said an accelerant was used to spread the fire.

The suspect was driving a 2017 Jeep Compass—investigators said the Jeep was registered to a woman in San Marcos and that Sechriest lived at the same address as the woman. According to the affidavit, surveillance footage at the synagogue showed a vehicle matching the same description driving through the parking lot on Oct. 28 around 8 p.m.

The crime comes after a string of anti-Semitic events in Austin including the hanging hateful banners. Anderson High School students also found anti-Semitic slurs and symbols painted in the parking lot. It is currently unknown if the events are connected.

Congregation Beth Israel Senior Rabbi Steve Folberg responded to the arrest in a statement:

"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.

"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. 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.

"We are also grateful to our friends at Shalom Austin and ADL Austin and for the support we have received from our Austin community and from around the world over the last 10 days. Those who wish to donate to help support our congregation after this hateful act may do so on our website."

The synagogue's congregation was formed in the late 1870s and moved into that building in 1956. It has since been added onto and remodeled but the bones remain the same.

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