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July 4, 2020

Ellis Cross Country volunteer firefighter dismissed following racist comments

By Shavonne Potts
shavonne.potts@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — A local firefighter, who came under fire following racist comments made in a social media message, has been dismissed from his department.

Blaine Shellhorn, a former a volunteer with the Ellis Cross Country Fire Department, replied to a Snapchat message from a former fellow student regarding peaceful protests that took place Sunday near the “Fame” statute. In his response, Shellhorn used a racial slur directed at the black female recipient and expletives. Later the same night, he issued an apology via the social media site Facebook, which reportedly has been removed and the account deactivated.

Shemiah Miller, 17, who was in attendance at Sunday’s protest said she sent Shellhorn a message about her feelings on the statute via the messaging app Snapchat. Miller attended Salisbury High School with Shellhorn. She said he responded with the expletive-laden message.

After receiving that message, Miller said she blocked Shellhorn and shared it with other friends, one of whom later shared it to Facebook. Miller said since the incident she’s been “thinking, how could someone hate me so much because of the color of my skin.”

Miller said doesn’t have issues with people who want to protect the “Fame” statute, but the reason she was there in the first place was that she wants others to know black lives matter and that “black people should be heard just as a white man.”

The Salisbury Post attempted to reach out to Shellhorn via the fire department but did not receive a response.

In a since-deleted post via the Ellis Cross Country Fire Department Facebook page, then-Capt. J.D. Bush wrote an apology explaining Shellhorn’s behavior. The message also came under criticism and was later removed by Bush.

Bush has since chosen to resign from the department, confirmed Assistant Fire Chief Chris Kepley. Bush’s resignation was not requested by the fire department or forced, Kepley said, but he felt it was better that he resign.

Kepley said the views expressed by Shellhorn do not represent the views of the fire department. Late Monday evening, Ellis Cross Country Fire Chief Jeff Whitley dismissed Shellhorn from the department.

Shellhorn was asked to turn in his turnout gear, Kepley said.

Kepley said she believes Bush’s intentions were good in trying to defend his friend, but his comments were not cleared with the chief or other fire department officers. Bush was an administrator on the department’s Facebook page and has since been removed as an administrator.

Kepley said the department asked all 30 of its volunteer membership to attend a meeting Monday evening. One of the concerns the fire department wanted to express was that each member has the right to protest; it was the goal to remind them that they are representatives of the fire department, Kepley said.

Jehan Allen, who has been vocal on her social media page about the comments, said they was sent to her by a friend. Allen said she was immediately concerned. She forwarded the messages to members of the Salisbury City Council and mayor, believing that Shellhorn was a member of the Salisbury Fire Department.

Allen also said she doesn’t take issue with anyone’s right to protest, “but when you’re taking it to that step that’s when your conduct becomes harmful and your character issues need to be evaluated.”She said said the response posted by Bush that seemingly came from the fire department did not make the situation better.

Miller’s mother, Kim Stevenson, said after seeing her daughter upset Sunday she drove to downtown Salisbury to pick her up. Stevenson said she also banned her daughter from social media. Afterward, Stevenson let her daughter “speak her truth,” once they saw the overwhelming response of support, including a petition that began circulating.

Stevenson said she reinforced to her daughter that she was not the label placed on her and to remember her worth and stand tall.

A Change.org petition has circulated online calling for the revocation of Shellhorn’s admission to a South Carolina military college. As of late Monday night, the petition had reached more than 500 of the requested 1,000 signatures.

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