On Monday, August 1, 2016, a threatening letter with a racial slur was left in volunteer firefighter Kenneth Walker’s mailbox, the only black firefighter in North Tonawanda, New York. Two days later, a fire swept through Walker’s house he shared with his wife, two young children, and two cats. The family was unharmed but their house was destroyed and their two cats were killed.
On Thursday, police arrested Walker’s neighbor Matthew Jurado, 39, a former volunteer firefighter from another North Tonawanda firehouse who allegedly admitted to setting the fire. Jurado allegedly told detectives the fire was not race related but that he was “upset with the fire department” because he’s been recently fired. He also admitted he knew who wrote the racist note but won’t reveal who the person is.
It is to be noted that Walker trained with Jurado, considered him a friend and lived across the street from him. Jurado has been to the Walker home and interacted with their children. Mr. Walker is relieved but understandably “a little bewildered”. Thankfully, the community and country have responded with an outpouring of support for the Walkers. A gofundme page created by another firefighter has now garnered over $150,000 dollars. Plus, the Gatwick Fire Company which is where Walker volunteers, has received $10,000, and they’ve been countless offers to help the family – from mattress and furniture stores, supermarkets, to scores of people from more than 26 states.
One call was from a woman in Orlando who wanted to pay for the family to come to Orlando because she felt they needed a full vacation because she felt they all need to heal.
Jurado has since pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree arson at his arraignment and is being held at Niagara County Jail on $50,000 bail. He was appointed a public defender today at his second court hearing.
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