Monday, September 25

Ten killed in mass shooting at Jefferson Avenue supermarket; officials describe attack as ‘hate crime’ | Local News

This is a developing breaking news situation. Check back for updates.

Ten people were killed and three others were wounded – two of them critically – outside and inside a Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue on Saturday afternoon in what law enforcement officials described as a racially motivated hate crime.

“It’s like walking onto a horror movie, but everything is real. It is Armageddon-like,” said a police official at the scene. “It’s so overwhelming.”

Of the 13 victims, 11 were Black. Police and prosecutors said the shooting had a racial motive.

“It was, straight up, a racially motivated hate crime,” Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said at a late afternoon news conference.

The gunman, Payton Gendron, 18, of Conklin, in Broome County, was arraigned Saturday evening before Buffalo City Court Judge Craig Hannah on a first-degree murder charge.

Four Tops employees were among those killed, including a recently retired Buffalo police officer who was working security at the store. The Buffalo News is withholding the retired officer’s identity because it could not be determined whether his family had been notified.

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As many as five bodies were found in the parking lot, an onsite police official said.

“Bullets and blood are everywhere,” the source said.

Shonnell Harris, an operation manager at the Tops, said she heard gun shots and ran frantically through the store, falling several times before exiting out the back. She saw the shooter, whom she described as a white man wearing camouflage. “He looked like he was in the Army.” Harris thought she heard 70 shots.

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The shooter was dressed in body armor, had a military-grade helmet on his head, and was armed with a high-powered rifle, police sources said. The shooter had a camera and police are looking into whether he live streamed from the scene, according to police. The shooter was taken into custody and placed in a police vehicle at the scene, according to sources.

It is unknown if he offered a reason for the massacre.

Video posted on Twitter showed two Buffalo Police officers with a man who appears to be in custody just outside the Tops store. The man is a white male dressed in camouflage pants, wearing what appears to be a mask over his mouth. The News has not been able to confirm that the person in custody in the video was the shooter.

Immediately after the shooting, Braedyn Kaphart and Shayne Hill said they came almost face to face with the shooter as they were turning their Equinox into a parking space in the Tops parking lot.

Kaphart described him as a while male in his late teens or early 20s with dirty blonde hair.

“He was standing there in his military gear with his weapon to his chin, looking like he was going to blow his head off,” Kaphart said. “We weren’t sure what was happening. As he continued to do that, he dropped to his knees still appearing as if he might shoot himself.”

Kaphart said she then looked away.

“I turned my head and back around as the police were telling us to get back in our cars,” she said.

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When Kaphart looked back, she said it appeared police officers had tackled and apprehended the man. They watched as he was put in a police vehicle and taken away.

She shuddered to think what might have happened if they arrived at Tops a little earlier.

“A few more minutes and, God forbid, I don’t even want to think what would have happened,” Kaphart said.

Inside the supermarket, several other victims were found, the two sources said, and some of the deceased appeared to be hiding near cash register lines.

Tops Shooting

Police respond to the mass shooting at the Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo.

Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

Adding to the horror, one of the sources said, was family members arriving after word spread in the community about the shooting.

Others at the scene started streaming the shooting on Facebook Live.

Will G., a frozen dairy worker at the Tops on Jefferson, said he walked into the cooler to stock milk about three minutes before the shooting. “I just heard shots. Shots and shots and shots,” he said. “It sounded like things were falling over.”

The worker hid in the cooler and more people joined him, he said. “I hid. I just hid. I wasn’t going to leave that room.”

Harris described the busy scene at Tops. “It was filled. It’s the weekend, so it was packed.”

“It’s like a dream, but I know it’s not a dream,” said Harris, the Tops operation manager. GYC Ministries pastor Tim Newkirk, with his arm around Harris, his sister, said, “It’s something you hear about, but you never experience.”

“You see it on TV, I never thought I’d be one of them,” Harris said. Harris, whose daughter Denise also works at the Tops, was found safe behind the supermarket. “I just grabbed her, I hugged her.”

Barbara Massey was frantically searching for her sister Katherine outside the Tops. She said her sister de ella was shopping at the time of the shooting and the two have not been able to make contact despite several phone calls and requests to the police. Massey’s brother had dropped Katherine off for a routine grocery shopping trip.

“She was supposed to be waiting in front of the store for her brother to pick her up again,” Massey said.

Katherine Crofton, a retired firefighter and medic, witnessed the shooting from her porch on Riley Street. She said she was playing with her dog and smoking a cigarette when she heard a shot.

“I didn’t see him at first, I turned around and I saw him shoot this woman,” Crofton said. “She was just going into the store. And then he shot another woman. She was putting groceries into her car. I got down because I did not know if he was going to shoot me.”

Crofton saw the emergency responders arrive, too.

“The guy walked out of the store, the cops were just screaming at him, and he just stood there. He just stood there. It was like he wanted them to shoot him,” Crofton said. The shooter began to remove his gear, Crofton continued, when another police car pulled up, officers got out and jumped on the shooter.

Veronica Hemphill-Nichols said she was walking to the Tops for a loaf of bread and saw two bodies in the parking lot.

“When I saw those bodies, I just broke. I’m angry and I’m trying to power down,” she said.

Hemphill-Nichols also said she saw people rushing out of the store and saw a woman frantically asking, “Where is my daughter?”

Johnnie Emmons was inside her home, about five doors away from the Tops, down Landon Street, when she said she heard bursts of gunfire. First came a flurry of about 20 shots, then, after a brief pause, about 20 more shots.

A large police presence shut down the area north of Jefferson Avenue at Northampton Street. The Tops Markets is at the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Riley Street, about two blocks north of Jefferson and Northampton.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz tweeted at 2:49 pm that he was aware of an “active multiple shooting event” that occurred at the Tops Markets at 1275 Jefferson Ave. He urged the public to avoid the area.

Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at btsu[email protected], at (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.

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