NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. – Police in New York arrested a former volunteer firefighter after he admitted to setting fire to the home of an ex-colleague, who is the only black volunteer firefighter in the upstate town of North Tonawanda.
Two days before the arson, victim Kenneth Walker said he received a letter in his mailbox. It demanded he resign from the fire department by the end of the week and that he leave the small town of North Tonawanda. The letter used the N-word several times.
“[Expletive deleted] are not allowed to be firefighters,” it said. “No one wants you in this city.”
A fire broke out Wednesday afternoon while Walker and his family were away. Two cats in his apartment were killed and almost everything inside was destroyed, said North Tonawanda Fire Chief Joseph Sikora.
On Thursday, North Tonawanda Police arrested Matthew Jurado, 39, a former volunteer firefighter who lives across the street from Walker. He was charged with second-degree arson and is to be arraigned Friday morning.
Jurado “admitted to us that he started the fire,” said Detective Captain Thomas Krantz of North Tonawanda Police Department. But he denied writing the threatening letter to Walker.
“At this point, we have a name that he provided us. However, we are still looking at the possibility that it is in fact he who wrote the letter. It could be this other person but that will be determined at a later date.” he said.
The suspect told police that the fire was not race-related, but that he was upset with the fire department after being removed from his position.
In July, Jurado had been removed from the fire department for “not meeting the necessary training requirements,” said Joseph Sikora, the North Tonawanda fire chief.
Jurado and Walker had known each other, because they had taken some training courses together, authorities said. But Krantz wouldn’t get into specific detail about possible motives for targeting Walker’s home.
The town’s fire and police department, along with the FBI and the New York State Office of Fire Control investigated the fire and the racist letter, which shocked many in the city.
The fire left Walker’s family without their home.
“That was everything that we owned and we pretty much have to start all over,” Walker told CNN affiliate WKBW. “We have two young kids and trying to explain to our 4-year-old that we have to move and go to a different house, it’s going to be a change for her, for us.”
Walker has been a volunteer firefighter at Gratwick Hose Fire Company for two years. He helps in medical situations, Sikora said.
A sign outside the fire department now reads, “We support Ken Walker.”