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Austin Fire Department seeking help finding synagogue arson suspect

The synagogue will be closed until damage can be repaired. (Congregation Beth Israel)

The Austin Fire Department is asking for the public's help in locating the suspect in connection to a potential arson case that started on Halloween night at a synagogue.

AFD said investigators and fire crews responded to a passerby's call about a "small exterior fire" at Congregation Beth Israel, 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd., around 9 p.m. on Oct. 31. The fire was extinguished and no injuries were reported.

According to surveillance footage obtained by AFD, a dark SUV, possibly a 2017 Jeep Compass, drove into the synagogue's parking lot. The man inside was described as a slender, white male with brown hair and a face covering. The man wore green pants, shoes, a black T-shirt and a face covering.



The man approached the front doors of the synagogue while carrying an olive green "jerry can" that was used to carry a flammable liquid. There was also broken glass nearby the scene, which AFD said may mean something was thrown at the building.

Congregation leaders sent out an email to detail the damage, which was estimated to be around $25,000, including the synagogue's wooden doors, smoke damage in the sanctuary space and ceiling tile replacement. They said it will take longer than initially expected to reopen.

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.

On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin City Council approved separate resolutions condemning antisemitic acts and statements.

Council Member Alison Alter said she and her family attend Congregation Beth Israel and have been alarmed by the increasing hate speech in Austin. For that reason, Alter said she is sponsoring resolution #64 to improve response to acts of racism, hate and antisemitism.

"Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the fire department responded in a matter of minutes, mitigating the structural damage," Alter said. "It is critical that as a city we join in a united front against hate and make clear that these acts do not represent our community values."

The fire comes on the heels of multiple antisemitic events in Austin—antisemitic banners were hung over local overpasses and high school students parking spots were vandalized with antisemitic graffiti.

It is unknown whether or not any of the recent incidents are connected.

If you have any information about the arson case, contact the AFD investigations office at its 24/7 phone number: (512) 974-0240.


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