In an ironic twist, the suspected white supremacist in custody following this weekend’s deadly shooting rampage in Buffalo that’s been widely attributed to anti-Black racism has a best friend who is of a different ethnicity.
Matthew Casado, who is Hispanic, is speaking out about his friendship with Payton Gendron back in their upstate New York hometown of Conklin. He denounced the suspected mass murderer but also described him in nonexceptional terms and said he had never noticed any indicators that Gendron harbored any extreme views on race.
The friends since second grade had been in contact as recently as Friday night, hours before Gendron allegedly launched a murderous spree at the Tops Friendly Market in a predominately Black neighborhood intentionally targeted for its non-white demographics.
Casado told media outlets that Gendron dropped off boxes of ammunition at his mobile home on Friday afternoon and later texted that he would be by to pick them up that night. However, Casado said Gendron never showed up.
Casado renounced his friendship with Gendron after learning about the massacre in Buffalo. But he also said he was in disbelief about the reports that his now-former best friend is a violent anti-Black racist.
“Up until Saturday when I got the news, I always thought he was a kind, harmless person,” Casado told ABC News. “He never stuck out to me as dangerous. He never stuck out to me as racist.”
Casado’s girlfriend, who is Black, expressed regret at meeting Gendron and called him a “disgrace,” though she admitted he had never directed any anti-Black rhetoric toward her before.
“I always thought he liked me because I was Matt’s girlfriend,” Skylar McClain told the Daily Mail. “He was never mean to me. He never did anything that made me think that he was racist.”
Casado’s mother described Gendron as “always respectful” and said she viewed him as a son.
“I love Payton. He was like my other child,” Pamela Burdock said while expressing shock at the shooting. “I never had a problem with him. He was always respectful. He was nice to me … It’s breaking my heart that he did this.”
Mounting evidence suggests that Gendron actually hated Black people.
Racist writings he reportedly left behind ascribed to a conspiracy theory that peddles genocide and is based on an irrational fear that Black and brown immigrants are replacing white people in America. It is a conspiracy theory that’s become increasingly popular in conservative political circles. Gendron was allegedly motivated by that so-called “white replacement theory” to the point he researched where he could find the nearest location with a high Black population. (Conklin notably has a Black population of less than 1 percentage point, according to Census data.)
When Gendron settled on Buffalo, he decided to target Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue on the city’s east side, which data shows has a population that is about 64% Black.
Gendron had reportedly been planning the attack at Tops friendly Market for months. An employee at the supermarket recalled that she had to ask Gendron to leave the premises on Friday for panhandling. Law enforcement officials suspect he was actually there doing “reconnaissance,” or scouting the location to become more familiar with it before launching the alleged murder spree.
The shooting killed 10 people — all Black — and injured three others, including two white people before police were able to de-escalate the situation without firing a single shot from their service weapons. One of the guns Gendron is accused of using had the N-word and other racist messages and symbols scrawled on it, according to reports.
President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit Buffalo on Tuesday to mourn the shooting victims and denounce messages of hatred.