After James Polite graduated from Brandeis University in May, his followers thought his life could make a turn.
He had spent much of his childhood in foster care and lived in up to 13 houses. He was struggling with mental illness and drug addiction when trying to graduate from college.
Former City Council President Christine C. Quinn had taken over Mr. Polite, 26, in 2008 and received an internship at the Council – where he worked on anti-hate crime issues, among others – and helped him apply for college.
"This is a young man I've worked with for over a decade," said Ms. Quinn on Saturday. "With all the setbacks, you hoped that this would be a good turnaround. But the opposite happened. "
The police said the surveillance video captured Mr. Polite from Brooklyn at the synagogue.
He was arrested Friday morning when there was a fire in Yeshiva Beth's Mantle Hillel of Williamsburg, officials said.
Mr. Polite was charged with arson, reckless vulnerability and criminal offenses – all as hate crimes – for arson in four other places connected to the Jewish community, including another school. The police recognized Mr. Polite from the surveillance video in Union Temple.
On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Polite was arrested for psychiatric examination.
"I'm devastated," said Ms. Quinn. "What James did is terrible and in some ways unforgivable."
The vandalism in Union Temple, which occurred less than a week after a shootout in a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people, canceled a political event Comedian Ilana Glazer planned to host. It was part of an upsurge of anti-Semitic graffiti in the city.
"People have the right to reverence and be safe without fear," said Georgia Boothe, vice president of child welfare at the Child Relief Society, who has helped Mr. Polite in the past. "But I also know that this man is very worried."
It was during a Gay Pride rally for Barack Obama on the steps of City Hall in 2008, when Ms. Quinn met Mr. Polite for the first time. She offered him the internship after hearing of his story published last year in a New York Times article about the Neediest Cases Fund, an annual campaign that collects money to support social services. Kinderhilfe is one of eight organizations funded by Neediest Cases.
Mr. Polite had first been taken out of his mother's house when he was in kindergarten. He ran away at 1 pm and asked the Child Relief Administration to take him to a nursing home. The agency found the conditions in his home unhygienic and met his request.
Then followed a series of placements. Mr. Polite was eventually placed with the foster parents just before he reached the age of 21, the age when children from the child welfare system in New York resigned. He struggled with marijuana consumption during his time in Brandeis, had to take a break and had to go into rehabilitation and get a job. Mr. Polite learned that he had bipolar disorder and was prescribed medication.
But his ability to take the medication was always difficult, relatives said. He had serious psychiatric setbacks and was struggling with drug use and delusions as he tried to graduate.
"He was a really smart young person," said Mrs. Boothe. "He was really determined to graduate from college and we wanted to help him." When he graduated in May, he hoped Mr. Polite would find a way forward.
The Children's Aid Society organizes an event every year at its headquarters where clients who have completed their studies come back as "credible ambassadors" for children who are still in the system and facing combat ,
Mr. Polite was invited to speak in July. At first he was calm and did not say much. And then Karina Melendez, who had survived cancer, her parents' divorce, homelessness and, she said, physical ill-treatment at Columbia University, told her story.
Mr. Polite was so moved that it forced him to talk about his own experiences. Mrs. Boothe watched him speak and said she could say that Mr. Polite felt good about giving something back. He talked about his own story of struggle and resilience.
After this speech things broke apart. Mr. Polite was living in a homeless shelter at the time of his arrest, friends said. He believed, however, that F.B.I., C.I.A. and the Department of Homeland Security had secretly taken over the protection system.
He had been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment this summer, but was not hospitalized. Mr. Polite had taken care of his outpatient treatment, but then stopped doing so.
Quinn, who checked in with Mr. Polite almost every day, began to hear less from him. When she talked to him, his speech and discussions were incoherent. That meant he was taking his medication. And when Mr. Polite had not gone on his medication, some of his insanity attempts became anti-Semitic.
In general, he talked about the young people that the Child Relief Association is working with a mental illness, said Ms. Boothe. The stigma prevents some from taking their medications. Or some start taking their medications, which stabilizes them, and then they feel they no longer need treatment.
It's a vicious circle that she has seen again and again.
But no one thought that Mr. Polite would do what he is accused. Ms. Quinn said Mr. Polite had stopped answering her messages three weeks ago, and she knew something was wrong.
"He played violent and hated in the end and I'm so sorry. It's heartbreaking, "said Ms. Quinn," but there's no room for hatred in this city. "
Asked about his future last year, he remained uncertain as to how things would turn out.
"I'm still worried," he said. "Life comes quickly to me."