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Neighbor arrested, charged in NT firefighter apartment fire

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

An arrest has been made in connection with the fire that destroyed the home of a North Tonawanda firefighter who, just days earlier, had received a threatening, racist note. The suspect, identified as 39-year-old Matthew Jurado, appeared in court Friday morning.

Jurado was arraigned in North Tonawanda City Court, charged with felony arson in the second degree. He is being held on $50,000 bail. Jurado did not have an attorney representing him in court. He advised the judge he will seek a public defender. He has until next Thursday to apply.

North Tonawanda Mayor Arthur Pappas announced Thursday night that it was Jurado's girlfriend who called 911 to report the fire at Walker's apartment. She lives with Jurado, whom Walker had asked earlier in the day of the fire to check on an unlocked door at his Oliver Street apartment.

Walker, earlier in the week, had received an anonymous letter, which included racial slurs, threatening that if Walker didn't quit Gratwick Hose Company by the end of the week, he would regret it.

Police say Jurado admitted setting the fire because he was upset about losing his own volunteer firefighter position. However, North Tonawanda Police Captain Thomas Krantz said Thursday night Jurado denies sending the threatening message to Walker and gave police the name of the person who allegedly did.

Police, state fire investigators and the FBI had been working together on the case. The writer of the note could still be charged with a hate crime, a federal offense.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Walker's apartment is a total loss. The Red Cross is assisting him and his family. Prosecutors on Friday morning say there was one person sleeping in the four-unit apartment complex when the fire started. No one was injured, and the Walkers were not home at the time, but two of the Walker family's cats died in the fire.

Mayor Pappas says the community has rallied behind the Walker family following this week's events.

"The outpouring in the community has just been tremendous," said Pappas, who suggested that the citizens have created positives from a negative story.

A GoFundMe page was set up Wednesday by another North Tonawanda firefighter, Shawn Moynihan, to assist the family. As of Friday afternoon, the campaign has raised more than $100,000 from more than 2,000 donors. Moynihan says as a fellow firefighter and a fellow human being, he wanted to "help someone who is in need of help." A few other GoFundMe pages for Walker had been set up as well.

Walker's Gratwick Hose Volunteer Fire Company is also collecting donations at its hall on Ward Road this Sunday.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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