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The Buffalo shooting has shocked the residents of the alleged gunman's hometown

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The alleged gunman who killed 10 people in a racist attack in a Buffalo grocery store this weekend is from Conklin, N.Y. - small town, mostly white, several hours from Buffalo near the Pennsylvania border. Residents of Conklin expressed shock at the attack, but some Black residents in nearby Binghamton are not surprised. Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo with member station WSKG reports.

PHOEBE TAYLOR-VUOLO, BYLINE: Jimays Flea Market is a few miles from the alleged shooter's family home in Conklin. Tammy Clapper has worked at Jimays for over 30 years. She's now one of the owners. She says she recognized the shooter because he used to shop at the flea market. Some of the vendors and workers there know him.

TAMMY CLAPPER: They're shocked. It's such a small town, and, you know, everybody's shocked that this happened.

TAYLOR-VUOLO: Tony Nard is a vendor at Jimays. He says Conklin residents are confused and surprised by the attack.

TONY NARD: When it hits this close to home, it really is equally painful. You just wonder why, you know? What causes somebody to have that much hatred? It just - to me, it's just incomprehensible.

TAYLOR-VUOLO: Conklin is about 95% white, according to 2020 census data. It's a 15-minute drive from Binghamton, a city where Black residents make up about 12% of the population.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROCERY STORE AMBIENCE)

KINYA MIDDLETON: Sorry about that, babe.

TAYLOR-VUOLO: Greater Good Grocery store on Binghamton's North Side serves mostly Black residents. Like the store that was attacked in Buffalo, it's also in a food desert. Kinya Middleton is a Black woman and the general manager of Greater Good. She's found herself thinking about whether she, her staff and customers are at risk. She's suddenly aware of the size of the windows and whether she'd be able to see someone coming.

MIDDLETON: Today I caught myself. I came in at 7:30. Our store doesn't open till 9, but my employees come in around 8:15. But usually I leave the door open for them, and I didn't this morning. I, like, locked it and waited for them to, like, call me or knock. Then I let them in - just different - just a different awareness.

TAYLOR-VUOLO: But she's not surprised about the shootings in Buffalo. She says she experiences racism every day. She describes the last election cycle as a living hell.

MIDDLETON: I felt like it was just, like, free reign, like, for anyone to say anything they want and it was just like, whatever, you know? So, like, to me, no, I'm not shocked by it. Like, I experience - like I said, I experience it all the time, so I'm not shocked.

TAYLOR-VUOLO: Bishop Mario Williams and Pastor Henry Ausby both minister to members of Binghamton's Black community. Williams says he remembers working with a local group addressing issues of race and trying to foster community in the area.

MARIO WILLIAMS: It was very interesting because most of the people that live outside of the Binghamton area attended these meetings with us.

TAYLOR-VUOLO: He says many of them were white and didn't know any people of color.

WILLIAMS: You know, only thing they know about African Americans is what they saw on television.

TAYLOR-VUOLO: Ausby says the fact that the alleged gunman was from so close by has caused fear among his congregation.

HENRY AUSBY: This young man - he didn't have to drive three hours to Buffalo. What if he had decided he didn't want to go that far and he could have stopped right here in Binghamton? You know, he could have done the same thing here. So that has to be on your mind.

TAYLOR-VUOLO: Williams and Ausby both say they're working to help their congregants process the attack. They say they're hoping that elected officials take action to prevent racist violence moving forward.

For NPR News, I'm Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo in Binghamton, N.Y.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.