Texas National Guard member, 18, faces federal arson charge for Halloween synagogue fire

An 18-year-old Texas National Guard member arrested for allegedly lighting a fire at an Austin synagogue on Halloween now faces a federal arson charge, according to a newly unsealed criminal complaint affidavit.

Franklin Barrett Sechriest was arrested Nov. 10, accused of lighting a fire near the doors of Congregation Beth Israel on Oct. 31 at 9 p.m., causing $25,000 in damage to the synagogue, according to the affidavit. 

Following 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 caught on the synagogue's surveillance footage getting out of his car, carrying a container similar to a fuel jug and a roll of toilet paper, then walking towards 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 FBI executed federal search warrants on Nov. 10 at Sechriest’s home in San Marcos, Texas, and found clothes consistent with what he was wearing in the Oct. 31 surveillance footage. 

Agents also found an American Express card in his name that was used to buy a five-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 storm proof matches, which an agent in the complaint described as items commonly used to make Molotov cocktails. 

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.” Another sticker displayed swastikas with the phrase: “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. 

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

The Texas Military Department confirmed to NBC News that Sechriest is a member of the Texas State Guard 6th Brigade and the department is cooperating with authorities in the investigation.  

"The Texas Military Department will not tolerate misconduct or behavior unbecoming of a Soldier or Airmen," the Texas Military Department 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. 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 Travis County jail Monday after being held on $100,000 bail on local arson charges, the Austin American-Statesman reported. 

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