Suspected arsonist in Austin synagogue fire charged in federal court

FBI finds antisemitic stickers, troubling journal entries when searching Franklin Sechriest’s home

Franklin Barrett Sechriest. (Austin Fire Department)

Updated on March 24, 2022:

On Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted a San Marcos man accused of setting fire to an Austin synagogue.

Franklin Sechriest, 19, is charged with damage to a religious property, use of fire to commit a federal crime and one count of arson.

Sechriest faces a maximum 30 years in prison for the damage to religious property charge, a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison to run consecutive to any other sentence for the use of fire charge and a maximum of 20 years in prison for the arson count.

Authorities tied Sechriest to the fire at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin through surveillance camera footage. During a subsequent search of his car and home, agents also found lighter fluid, antisemitic stickers and handwritten journals that appear to reference the incident.

Sechriest has been in custody since his arrest on Nov. 12, 2021.

Original story:

A Texas State student accused of lighting an Austin synagogue on fire is facing new criminal charges.

Franklin Sechriest, 18, was arrested by federal authorities on suspicion of arson on Monday, according to federal court records. He was already arrested on a similar charge in state court last week.

On Oct. 31, a fire broke out at Congregation Beth Israel, according to the Austin Fire Department. Though no injuries were reported in the late-night incident, the fire caused $25,000 in damage.

Arson investigators uncovered surveillance videos from synagogue surveillance cameras that appeared to show Sechriest on the property when the fire was set.

On Nov. 10, the FBI executed a warrant allowing them to search Sechriest’s property, according to court documents.

While searching the Jeep Sechriest drove, agents found three 32-ounce bottles of lighter fluid and a “storm proof” match case with matches, according to the complaint.

They also found three antisemitic stickers in the car.

FBI agents found antisemitic stickers with bottles that appeared to be Molotov cocktails in the car of Franklin Sechriest. (KSAT)

Officials also found Sechriest’s planner and journal, according to court documents.

Sechriest’s planner included at least one racist message in his calendar. “N----- appreciation class,” the entry read.

In his journal, Sechriest allegedly wrote that he planned to “scout out a target” days before the fire.

Franklin Sechriest's journal entry, according to the FBI. (KSAT)

In another excerpt, Sechriest allegedly wrote “I set a synagogue on fire.”

In another excerpt, Sechriest allegedly wrote “I set a synagogue on fire.” (KSAT)

On an entry dated Nov. 2, Sechriest allegedly wrote that he will “check reports on [redacted]” and “get worried when it mentions they are ‘hopeful a suspect will be caught.’”

On an entry dated Nov. 2, Sechriest allegedly wrote that he will “check reports on [redacted]” and “get worried when it mentions they are ‘hopeful a suspect will be caught.’” (KSAT)

Court records show that prosecutors are hoping to keep Sechriest in custody without bond. Reasons include the severity of the crime and to “reasonably assure the safety of the community and any other person.”

In recent weeks, there has been a reported string of antisemitic incidents in the region, including an antisemitic banner displayed from an overpass on a heavily traveled boulevard.


About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.