NEW YORK - 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who allegedly fatally shot 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket researched the local demographics and arrived a day in advance to conduct reconnaissance with the intent of killing as many Black people as possible, officials said Sunday.
The racially motivated attack came a year after Gendron was taken to a hospital by state police after making threats involving his high school, according to authorities.
He wasn't charged with a crime and was out of the hospital within a day and a half, police said, but the revelation raised questions about his access to weapons and whether he could have been under closer supervision by law enforcement.
The Buffalo attack prompted grief and anger in the predominantly Black neighborhood around Tops Friendly Market. A group of people gathered there Sunday afternoon to lead chants of "Black lives matter" and mourn victims that included an 86-year-old woman who had just visited her husband in a nursing home and supermarket security guard Aaron Salter, both of whom were Black.
Payton S. Gendron is seen in a booking photo from May 15, 2022 (Erie County District Attorney via FOX News)
"Somebody filled his heart so full of hate that he would destroy and devastate our community," the Rev. Denise Walden-Glenn said.
Speaking at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial service at the U.S. Capitol, President Joe Biden said, "We must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America." The White House later announced that the president and first lady would travel to Buffalo on Tuesday to "grieve with the community."
The Buffalo attack was the deadliest of multiple shootings across the country in recent days. Officials in Milwaukee imposed a curfew after 21 people were injured in three separate shootings near an entertainment district where thousands gathered Friday for an NBA playoff game. Three other shootings over the weekend in the Midwest city left three people dead.
On Sunday, two shootings — one at a Houston flea market and another at a California church — left three people dead and others wounded.
As the country reeled from the Buffalo attack, new details emerged about the gunman's past and Saturday's rampage, which the shooter livestreamed on Twitch. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo native, demanded technology companies tell her whether they’ve done "everything humanly possible" to make sure they're monitoring violent content as soon as it appears.
"If not, then I’m going to hold you responsible," she said.
Twitch said in a statement that it ended the transmission "less than two minutes after the violence started."
New York State Police said troopers were called early last June to the high school then attended by the alleged gunman, Payton Gendron, for a report that a 17-year-old student had made threatening statements.
Gendron threatened to carry out a shooting at Susquehanna Valley High School, in Conklin, New York, around the time of graduation, a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the investigation.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Gendron had no further contact with law enforcement after his release from the hospital.
"Nobody called in," he said. "Nobody called any complaints," Gramaglia said.
Federal law bars people from owning a gun if a judge has determined they have a "mental defect" or they have been forced into a mental institution — but an evaluation alone would not trigger the prohibition.
Federal authorities were still working to confirm the authenticity of a racist 180-page document, purportedly written by Gendron, that detailed his plans for the attack and reasons for carrying it out.
A preliminary investigation found Gendron had repeatedly visited sites espousing white supremacist ideologies and race-based conspiracy theories and extensively researched the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the man who killed dozens at a summer camp in Norway in 2011, the law enforcement official told AP.
Federal agents served multiple search warrants and interviewed Gendron’s parents, who were cooperating with investigators, the law enforcement official said.
Portions of the Twitch video circulating online showed the gunman firing volley after volley of shots in less than a minute as he raced through the parking lot and then the store, pausing for just a moment to reload. At one point, he trains his weapon on a white person cowering behind a checkout counter, but says "Sorry!" and doesn’t shoot.
Screenshots purporting to be from the broadcast appear to show a racial slur targeting Black people scrawled on his rifle, as well as the number 14 — likely referencing a white supremacist slogan.
"This individual came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he possibly could," Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a news conference Sunday.
The lengthy statement attributed to Gendron outlined a racist ideology rooted in a belief that the United States should belong only to white people. All others, the document said, were "replacers" who should be eliminated by force or terror. The attack was intended to intimidate all non-white, non-Christian people and get them to leave the country, it said.
The document said Gendron researched demographics to select his target, and picked a neighborhood in Buffalo because it had a high ratio of Black residents.
Who is Payton Gendron?
Authorities said that Payton Gendron, drove to the Tops Friendly Market located on Jefferson Avenue at around 2:30 p.m., and got out of his vehicle dressed in military fatigues and wearing body armor and a helmet with a camera he used to livestream the shooting.
The video showed the gunman pulling up to the front of the store with a rifle on the front seat and then pointing the rifle at people in the parking lot as he exited the vehicle and opening fire, the official said.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said the suspect began in the parking lot, shooting four people, three of whom died before going into the store.
Inside the supermarket, the store's security guard, a retired Buffalo police officer, shot at the suspect but was unable to injure him due to the body armor the suspect was wearing. The suspect then gunned down the security guard before continuing on into the store.
Authorities said he shot, in total, 11 Black people and two white people Saturday.
Police entered the store and confronted the gunman in the vestibule. He put his rifle to his own neck, but two officers talked him into dropping the gun, Gramaglia said.
In a Sunday interview with ABC, Gramaglia said that Gendron had been in town "at least the day before."
"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.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson called the shooting "absolutely devastating."
"Our hearts are with the community and all who have been impacted by this terrible tragedy. Hate and racism have no place in America. We are shattered, extremely angered and praying for the victims’ families and loved ones," he added in a statement.
Braedyn Kephart and Shane Hill, both 20, pulled into the parking lot just as the shooter was exiting. They described him as a white male in his late teens or early twenties sporting full camo, a black helmet and what appeared to be a rifle.
"He was standing there with the gun to his chin. We were like what the heck is going on? Why does this kid have a gun to his face?" Kephart said. He dropped to his knees. "He ripped off his helmet, dropped his gun, and was tackled by the police."
Officials said the rifle Gendron used in the attack was purchased legally but that the magazines he used for ammunition were not allowed to be sold in New York.
President Joe Biden in a statement said he and the first lady were praying for the victims and their families.
"We still need to learn more about the motivation for today’s shooting as law enforcement does its work, but we don’t need anything else to state a clear moral truth: A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation," he said. "Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America."
Tops Friendly Markets released a statement saying, "We are shocked and deeply saddened by this senseless act of violence and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families."
The shooting came little more than a year after a March 2021 attack at a King Soopers grocery in Boulder, Colorado, that killed 10 people. Investigators have not released any information about why they believe the man charged in that attack targeted the supermarket.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson issued a statement in which he called the Buffalo shooting "absolutely devastating."
"Hate and racism have no place in America," he said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton called on the White House to convene a meeting with Black, Jewish and Asian leaders to demonstrate a federal commitment to combating hate crimes.
More than two hours after the shooting, Erica Pugh-Mathews was waiting outside the store, behind police tape.
"We would like to know the status of my aunt, my mother's sister. She was in there with her fiancé, they separated and went to different aisles," she said. "A bullet barely missed him. He was able to hide in a freezer but he was not able to get to my aunt and does not know where she is. We just would like word either way if she’s OK."
With the Associated Press.