A Texas student, who wrote ‘I set a synagogue on fire’ in a journal, is charged with arson, officials say
Jay Janner/Austin American Statesman/USA Today Network

A Texas student, who wrote ‘I set a synagogue on fire’ in a journal, is charged with arson, officials say

A Texas State University student who the FBI said wrote “I set a synagogue on fire” has been federally charged with arson, according to a Tuesday news release from the US Department of Justice.

The charges stem from a fire that was intentionally set at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Austin, Texas, on October 31, the release said.

Surveillance video from the night of the fire shows Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18, with a face covering the night of the fire, according to a criminal complaint.

Sechriest was arrested Friday. If convicted, he could face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, the release said.

An attorney for Sechriest did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

“Arson at a sacred place of worship shakes the very foundations of our society,” said US Attorney Ashley C. Hoff. “This Office strongly condemns the intentional act of violence alleged in the complaint and will vigorously prosecute this type of conduct to the fullest extent possible.

The FBI’s annual hate crime statistics report found that more than 7,700 criminal hate crime incidents were reported to the FBI in 2020, an increase of about 450 incidents over 2019. There were 683 anti-Jewish attacks last year, according to the FBI data, down from 963 in 2019.

Stickers with Nazi propaganda found in vehicle used by Sechriest

Surveillance video from security cameras on the night of fire show Sechriest — carrying a green container and a roll of toilet paper — walking toward the synagogue’s administration office entrance. Seconds later, Sechriest is seen walking away from the office entrance, and moving toward the front doors of the synagogue sanctuary and out of view of the cameras, according to the complaint.

After the fire ignited, surveillance video from the parking area security camera showed Sechriest jogging away from the direction of the synagogue sanctuary and the fire, the complaint said.

The FBI executed federal search warrants on November 10 authorizing the search and seizure of evidence from Sechriest’s residence and a Jeep Cherokee used by Sechriest.

Stickers with Nazi propaganda and swastikas were recovered from the Jeep. Agents also recovered a planning calendar that included racial slurs from another vehicle parked in the garage of the home, the complaint read.

During the search, a handwritten journal that allegedly belonged to Sechriest was found with an entry dated October 31, 2021.

Sechriest wrote in the journal, “I set a synagogue on fire,” according to the complaint.

Sechriest is scheduled for a preliminary examination and detention hearing on November 17 at 10:30 a.m., according to the release.

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