CONKLIN – Worshipers in this Southern Tier town prayed for Buffalo on Sunday.
Neighbors of the 18-year-old accused of “pure evil” in the racist mass killing at the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue described him as one of the last people from here they would have predicted to carry out such a heinous act.
And the elected supervisor of this town of 5,441 residents some seven miles south of Binghamton, near the Pennsylvania border, could express only shock.
“I have no words,” said Town Supervisor William Dumian. “Tragic. Inexcusable.”
News of the Buffalo shooting that killed 10 people left Jasen A. Pascal saddened – but not surprised.
“Places are going to have good and bad, and so it’s not necessarily surprising to hear the news,” said Pascal, a 33-year-old Black man who moved here from Brooklyn several years ago.
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“Being out here, personally, I felt a lot of love,” Pascal said of being in the community and engaging with residents. “I do enjoy this area.”
Getting to the suspect’s home from off Interstate 81 means driving along Broome Corporate Parkway past distribution centers the lengths of football fields and electronics assembly facilities.
Residents said it is not a place where white supremacy is tolerated.
“This is not at all that kind of community,” said Reed Mullen, a software engineer who is a leader of the Bridgewater Church’s Conklin campus.
He called the town an “idyllic” place to live and raise a family.
But a heavy police presence on the block where the the accused shooter’s family lives belied that notion beginning Saturday and overnight into Sunday, with state police blocking the road leading to the residence as authorities gathered at the home.
Before Saturday, the biggest news stories involving Conklin were probably about floods, particularly one in June 2006 when the swollen Susquehanna River destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, required hundreds of people to be airlifted to safety and caused tens of millions of dollars of damage. Another flood caused damage in 2011.
Crises like that can bond or separate a community, Mullen said. The floods bonded Conklin.
What happened Saturday in Buffalo could put the town in a similar crossroads.
“I can’t begin to process that kind of tragedy,” he said. “But I think the focus is more about those poor families than the reputation of the community.”
The arrest of a neighbor shocked residents.
“Stuff like this doesn’t happen here,” said Keri Mead, who lives a couple of blocks from the accused shooter’s home. “Most people here grew up here, and now their kids are going to school together.
“I can’t sleep. I can eat a little bit, but I just keep hearing gunshots and just seeing the bodies,” said the employee, who wished to give only her first name, Latisha.
“I think everyone around here is surprised,” she said, because she and her children, as well as others in the neighborhood, saw no outward signs that would lead them to think he was capable of such a crime.
A teenager from the subdivision who attended Gendron’s high school graduation party said he’s trying to figure out what happened to Gendron, because he never acted or talked in a way that would lead him to suspect he was a white supremacist. Mostly, Gendron just played video games, the teenager said.
“He was a big gamer,” the teenager said. “He had a ton of online friends.”
Tim Sullivan, Conklin campus pastor for Bridgewater Church, led worshippers in prayer Sunday morning for those killed on Saturday and for their grieving families and friends.
“There was a huge tragedy in Buffalo yesterday, and I just want to take a few moments praying for Buffalo,” Sullivan said during a Sunday service. “God, we recognize there is a lot of chaos, evil, hurt and pain in the world, and we don’t understand it. We just ask that you shower that community with love and comfort.”
Pascal, who moved to this area from Brooklyn, said Saturday’s racist mass shooting should motivate people to speak out against this kind of violence.
“Too many people are afraid to speak to people in their lives” who may show an inclination toward racial hatred and even violence, he said. “It’s that silence that allows that to continue.”
“I’m so sorry to hear what happened,” he added.
“I hope that they know there are people in this area who support them and know how horrific that incident is,” he said.
He said he hopes that people in Buffalo and Conklin and everywhere else “speak out so we can address this and make sure something like this isn’t happening in the future.”
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism