MABANK, TX (KLTV) - The East Texas firefighter who lost his position after a Facebook comment on the Charleston shooting says the post was taken out of context.
The former Mabank Volunteer Firefighter wrote, "He needs to be praised for the good deed he has done," on a South Carolina newspaper's Facebook page about a story on the shooting. Kurtis Cook, in an exclusive interview, spoke about the comment that cost him his position and reputation.
Cook is a veteran firefighter of 23 years and was eager to sit down with us to explain that controversial comment.
"When I was looking at the threads and, you know, I was just reading down and there was a person there that posted, was donating a large sum of money to the victims, so I just said 'This person ought to be praised for his good deed,'" Cook explains.
He said headlines across the country portrayed the comment as a reference to the Charleston shooter, Dylann Roof, but Cook said that was not the case at all.
"Making me look like I'm standing with this comment, like I'm supporting this Dylann guy, and I would never do that. I'm not racist, never been racist." Cook said.
A screenshot that went viral doesn't show any of the comments above Cook's comment and we were unable to find the original thread on that news outlet's Facebook page. We called the newspaper and they were unable to find it either. Cook has since deleted his Facebook, too, and has no way of showing us the comment about donations he said he was referring to.
"You can't put your opinions out there anymore, because somewhere somebody's going to take that the wrong way and then they're going to run with it, and that's what's happened here," he explained.
On Friday, when the chief told him to come to the station with all of his things to discuss a Facebook post, his wife said they couldn't understand why.
"We had no idea what kind of comment on Facebook he would have made that would offend anyone," Andrea Cook said.
The Mabank fire chief declined an interview, but said when confronted with the post, Cook did not deny it and asked him what the problem was. So, why did he resign and say nothing about the donation post to which he was referring?
"They were getting so much pressure over there that I just went ahead and just let them go ahead and resign me, or terminate me, so they could go ahead and move on with the fire department," he said.
Just one hour after posting on Facebook saying they were investigating, the Mabank Fire Department posted a follow-up explaining Cook had been terminated.
"The investigation happened so quickly it was almost like Kurtis didn't have time to defend himself," his wife said.
Cook said he was firefighter of the year in 2009 and 2010 and has stacks of certificates highlighting his career. The most hurtful comments, he said, are those questioning his integrity as a firefighter.
"I've never treated any incident different, regardless of what their race or religion was, ever," Cook said.
With remarks and threats against the family, the Cooks are preparing to move away.
"And now I'll never be a fireman again. I'm going to lose my full time job and I'm going to have to relocate," he said through tears. "I'm not trying to just 'do damage control.' I'm just telling you the side of the story where I came from on this."
The fire chief also explained that the department has a strict policy on posting on social media and that all members are warned of this and urged to be careful what they post.