UPDATED: This story has been updated with Gerod Roth’s comments, which he posted online after our story went to publication.
The photo itself is simple enough.
It’s the comments that got Gerod Roth fired.
The Atlanta man posted a picture of himself with his co-worker’s three-year-old son Cayden to Facebook in September under the name Geris Hilton.
Roth is white. Cayden is black.
“I didn’t know you were a slave owner,” wrote Facebook user Emily Irene Red.
Other commenters joked that the boy’s name was Kunta Kinte or Toby, a slave characterized in the 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family.
Roth chimed in and commented, “He was feral.”
In a separate private Facebook message thread that Global News could not verify, Roth wrote that by “feral” he meant that Cayden was “abandoned in the Atlanta projects to fend for himself,” rendering him deaf and mute.
Cayden’s mother Sydney Shelton didn’t notice the post, or the comments below it, until friends began to text her with screenshots.
She still doesn’t understand why anyone would choose to attack her son.
“I do everything that I can to make sure that he never has to want or need for anything,” she told Fox 5 Atlanta. “And to see people bashing him – grown people bashing a small, helpless child – it breaks my heart.”
When Roth and Shelton’s boss at Polaris Marketing Group found out about the Facebook comments, he said his heart was broken for Shelton and Cayden and Roth was terminated from his position.
Polaris President Michael Da Graca Pinto confirmed to Global News by phone that Roth is no longer working there.
“Gerod Roth was terminated on September 29 of this year,” he said, claiming that it was “for an entirely unrelated incident.” (Global News had not mentioned the Facebook post or the racist comments.)
Pinto declined to explain what the incident he was referring to was about, and hung up.
In an interview Monday with My AJC, Pinto told the news website that he thought the comments were “horrible.”
“Sydney is a friend and a great worker. I just wanted to let her know that this is not something we condone. I wanted Sydney to know that we support her,” he said.
Other companies that employed commenters on Roth’s original post have also taken action.
On her own Facebook profile, Shelton shared happier photos of Cayden and said she wanted him to be known by those images, rather than the racist comments strangers made about him.
Using the hashtag #HisNameIsCayden, supporters of the family rallied online to draw attention to ongoing racism.
In an interview that aired on Monday on Fox 5 Atlanta, Roth claimed his post was taken out of context and that he feels victimized.
“I just really feel upset, not only with myself, but also with the character that was based off the comments that my friends made,” he said. “I feel as if not only poor Cayden himself has been victimized but also myself for being targeted.”
Those comments have also sparked a strong reaction online.
Gerod Roth posted a lengthy note on Facebook in an attempt to explain himself, accompanied by an updated profile picture where he is holding up a sign that reads #HisNameIsCayden.