BUFFALO, NY — Vigils, prayer services and rallies were held across the city Sunday after authorities said a gunman, wearing tactical gear and a livestreaming camera, killed 10 people and wounded three more in a hate-fueled shooting rampage at a busy supermarket.
Eleven of the 13 people who were shot Saturday at the Tops Friendly Markets were Black, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said. The suspect, who was taken into custody at the scene, is white. The FBI is investigating the shooting as a hate crime and racially motivated violent extremism.
The suspect, Payton Gendron, 18, was charged with murder and officials said they will weigh additional charges in the coming days.
“This individual came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he could,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a news conference Sunday.
Gendron threatened an attack at his high school last year, resulting in a referral for a mental health evaluation, a law enforcement official told USA TODAY on Sunday. The incident was reviewed by state authorities at the time. The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the suspect’s parents were cooperating with authorities.
Gramaglia said all victims had been identified and families notified. The names could be released late Sunday or Monday, he said.
Voice Buffalo and other equity advocacy groups organized a vigil near the shooting scene that drew a crowd of hundreds Sunday morning. Among the speakers was the Rev. Mark Blue, president of the Buffalo NAACP, who called for unity among residents of all races.
Blue said everyone must “continue to support those who have been victimized by this heinous act” of racism.
Some of the crowd marched in the area near the store Sunday morning, chanting statements such as, “This is what community looks like” and, “We are mourning, we are hurt.”
“A lot of people know each other in this community,” said Michael Ray of Buffalo, who lives about a mile from the Tops store, where he’s also a regular customer. “We’re all intertwined. That’s what makes this so hurtful, honestly.”
Here’s what we know:
DEADLY BUFFALO SUPERMARKET SHOOTING:What we know about the suspect
The suspect was identified by authorities as Payton Gendron, 18, of Conklin, New York.
Federal agents interviewed Gendron’s parents and were working to confirm the authenticity of a 180-page manifesto that was posted online, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The manifesto detailed the plot and identified Gendron by name as the gunman, said the official, who is not authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. The document espoused the belief that the US belongs only to white people and all others should be eradicated by force or terror, which was the purpose of the attack.
The official said Gendron repeatedly visited websites promoting white supremacist ideologies and race-based conspiracy theories.
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Authorities said Gendron traveled several hours across the state to carry out the attack.
“It seems that he had come here to scope out the area, to do a little reconnaissance work on the area before he carried out his just evil, sickening act,” Gramaglia said.
Gendron was armed with an assault-style rifle and arrived at the store around 2:30 pm Saturday, he said. Four people were shot in the parking lot, three of whom died at the scene. After Gendron entered the store, “he began engaging customers inside,” Gramaglia said.
The suspect was wearing a camera and live streaming. The online platform Twitch said in a statement that it ended the livestream “less than two minutes after the violence started.”
A retired Buffalo police officer identified by authorities as Aaron Salter, working in the store as a security guard, confronted the shooter and shot him. Those bullets struck the attacker’s tactical vest, preventing injury, Gramaglia said. The gunman returned fire and fatally shot Salter.
The shooter “worked his way through the store” firing at others, and in the store’s lobby was confronted by Buffalo police, Gramaglia said. Then the suspect pointed his own gun at his neck from him.
“The officers used every de-escalation tactic they could to talk him down,” Gramaglia said. “He didn’t point the gun toward officers, and the officers moved in very quickly to take him into custody.”
Gendron had previously threatened a shooting at his high school and was sent for mental health treatment, USA TODAY confirmed. Gendron threatened the shooting at Susquehanna Valley High School around the time of graduation, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press. The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the investigation and did so on the condition of anonymity.
New York State Police said troopers were called to the school on June 8, 2021, for a report that a 17-year-old student had made threatening statements. Police said the student was taken into custody under a state mental health law and taken to a hospital for an evaluation. The police statement did not give her the student’s name.
Gendron graduated from the school in Conklin, about 10 miles southeast of Binghamton near the New York-Pennsylvania border. I have been a student at SUNY Broome Community College.
President Joe Biden on Sunday urged Americans to “work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America.” Biden, speaking at a tribute outside the US Capitol for the 563 police officers killed in duty the past year, said he’s been receiving updates on the Buffalo shooting and is in close contact with the Justice Department, which is investigating the attack as a hate crime,
“Our hearts are heavy once again, but our resolve must never, ever waver,” Biden said.
Biden has not yet spoken with family members of the victims, who were primarily Black. The grocery store is located in a predominantly African American neighborhood.
Biden did offer his condolences and support to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and reached out to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.
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“Jill and I, like all of you, pray for the victims and their families and a devastated community,” Biden said. “They were pulled as if you got pulled into a black hole in your chest, and there’s no way out. Jill and I know. We know no memorial, no gestures can fill the void in the hearts they have now.”
Vice President Kamala Harris decried the “epidemic of hate across our country that has been evidenced by acts of violence and intolerance. We must call it out and condemn it.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week” that people must speak up when they sense violence may take place.
“Did no one know, any of his friends, school, work, where have I purchased any of this?” she asked of the gear used by the suspect. “People have to alert other authorities if they think that someone is on a path to terror.”
Jennifer Tookes said she was walking through the store when she heard gunshots.
“I ran through the deli and ran out the back door to get away from him,” she said. “When I came out here I just (saw) bodies laying in front of the store.”
Tookes called her cousin, who was also inside the store when the gunfire erupted. Her cousin de ella hid in a freezer and was not injured, she said. The pair reconnected outside.
“It was scary,” Tookes said, adding that the store was crowded at the time and that others ran out the back door as well. “A lot of people got away, thank God.”
She said she didn’t see the shooter, but when she heard the shots she “just started running.”
Hochul spoke at a service at True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo, saying Saturday’s attack “was not a random act of violence.”
We must “silence the voices of hatred and white supremacy all over the internet,” Hochul said Sunday.
“This is in a league of its own… a whole new dimension,” she said. “I want to silence those voices now, I want them to talk about Buffalo as the last place this ever happened, we will let this end right here.”
BUFFALO SHOOTING:Gov. Kathy Hochul blames ‘white supremacist’
On Saturday, Hochul called the gunman a “white supremacist” who terrorized New York’s second-largest city in a “cold-hearted,” “military-style execution” as people were buying groceries.
“This individual – this white supremacist – who just perpetrated a hate crime on an innocent community, will spend the rest of his days behind bars. And heaven help him in the next world as well,” she said.
Gendron was arraigned Saturday evening before Buffalo City Court Judge Craig Hannah on one count of first-degree murder. Officials said they will weigh additional charges in the coming days.
Gendron’s lawyer, Brian Parker, requested that his client undergo a psychiatric examination. Hannah ordered that Gendron be held without bail. He will return to court for a felony hearing Thursday morning.
John Flynn, Erie County’s district attorney, said the suspect would face a variety of charges, including hate crime charges. Hochul said she had directed the state’s Hate Crime Task Force to begin an investigation.
Gendron may also face federal charges.
“We are investigating this incident as both a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism,” said Stephen Belongia, special agent of charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office.
Contributing: Joey Garrison, Christal Hayes, Kevin Johnson, Merdie Nzanga, Claire Thornton and Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY, Sean Lahman, Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle; Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism