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Texas State Guard member, 18, faces federal arson charge in Halloween synagogue fire

Franklin Barrett Sechriest is accused of lighting a fire at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin on Halloween night, causing $25,000 in damage.
News: Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue Fire
The charred front doors at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas, on Nov. 1. Jay Janner / Austin American Statesman via USA Today Network

An 18-year-old Texas State Guard member accused of lighting a fire at an Austin synagogue on Halloween faces a federal arson charge, according to a newly unsealed criminal complaint affidavit.

The man, Franklin Barrett Sechriest, was arrested Wednesday and accused of lighting a fire near the doors of Congregation Beth Israel at 9 p.m. on Oct. 31, causing $25,000 in damage to the synagogue, according to the affidavit.

After an investigation and witness interviews, officials “determined that the fire was intentionally set and thus an act of arson,” the complaint says.

The affidavit says Sechriest was recorded on the synagogue's surveillance video getting out of his car, carrying a container similar to a fuel jug and a roll of toilet paper, then walking toward the temple's administration office entrance on Oct. 31.

Soon after the glow of fire was visible on video, Sechriest was seen jogging away and getting back into his vehicle, the affidavit claims.

The FBI executed federal search warrants Wednesday at Sechriest’s home in San Marcos and found clothes consistent with what the person in the surveillance video was wearing, authorities said. 

Agents also found an American Express card in his name that was used to buy a 5-gallon VP Racing Fuel utility jug on Sept. 6, according to the affidavit. 

A search of his car found three 33-ounce glass bottles, three 32-ounce bottles of lighter fluid, a lighter and stormproof matches, which an agent described in the complaint as items commonly used to make Molotov cocktails.

According to the affidavit, investigators also found stickers in the car, one of which said, “They hate your ancestors, they hate your culture, they hate your nation, they hate your religion … it’s okay to hate them back.” Authorities said another sticker displayed swastikas with the slogan: “Would you kill them all to see your rights? The price of freedom is paid in blood.” 

Investigators also found a journal belonging to Sechriest in which he wrote “scout a target” on Oct. 28, three days before the fire, they said. 

On Oct. 31, the day of the fire, he wrote in his journal, “I set a synagogue on fire,” according to the affidavit. 

The Texas Military Department confirmed that Sechriest is a member of the Texas State Guard 6th Brigade and said the department is cooperating with authorities. The State Guard is an unarmed voluntary force that supplements the National Guard in Texas.  

"The Texas Military Department will not tolerate misconduct or behavior unbecoming of a Soldier or Airmen," it said in a statement.

"Every member of the Texas Military Department is held to a high standard of professionalism. Texans know and trust its National Guard," it said. "Any threat to that public trust will not be tolerated."

Sechriest is also charged with arson in state district court in Travis County.

His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sechriest was transferred to federal custody from the Travis County jail Monday after he had been held on $100,000 bail on local arson charges, the Austin American-Statesman reported.