NORTH TONAWANDA – The apartment of the only black volunteer firefighter in an upstate New York town burned down — two days after he says he received a racist letter telling him to move out.
Kenneth Walker said he received the letter Monday night in his mailbox. It demanded he resign by the end of the week and 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.”
The fire broke out Wednesday afternoon while Walker and his family were away. Almost everything inside the apartment, including two cats, perished, said North Tonawanda Fire Chief Joseph Sikora.
“I told everybody it’s appalling to think about what’s taking place,” Sikora told CNN. “Our city has never had an issue like this. Not in 26 years. Quite frankly it sickens me.”
Police said the investigation continues and declined to comment on the cause or whether the fire was related to the letter.
But the FBI has been notified.
“I have children that live here,” Walker told CNN affiliate WKBW. “You can have a problem with me, you can have a problem with anything I may say or do. But there’s no reason to involve my home.”
An outpouring of support
The outpouring from the community has been overwhelming.
Residents have brought in food, money and clothes.
“They have a lot of pieces to put back together,” Walker’s uncle, Robert Sands, told CNN.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t take anything because there’s nowhere to put it.”
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.”
“He’s there on Sundays. He’s there on holidays taking time away from his family and sleep to answer calls,” Bob Brennan of the fire company told WKBW. “I wish I had 20 more members like Ken Walker.”
Sands, the uncle, said the Walker family is holding up as best as it can.
“They’re doing OK. They’re holding it together,” he said. “They’re trusting the process that law enforcement will do their job and get them some answers.”