The Washington Post

HE SPURRED FEARS OF SCHOOL ATTACK

In Buffalo, community mourns 10 slain at store

- BY JACOB BOGAGE, ANNIE GOWEN AND DEVLIN BARRETT

buffalo — As Buffalo mourned the 10 people slaughtere­d in a mass shooting, authoritie­s confirmed Sunday that the 18-yearold suspect, Payton Gendron, was investigat­ed less than a year ago for making a threat at his high school.

New York State Police spokesman Beau Duffy said that on June 8, 2021, investigat­ors “responded to Susquehann­a High School in Conklin, N.Y., to investigat­e a report that a 17-year-old student had made a threatenin­g statement.” The student was taken into custody under a provision of the state’s mental health law “and transporte­d to the hospital for a mental health evaluation,” the spokesman said.

“The informatio­n we have is he was there for a day and a half, was evaluated and then released at that point,” Buffalo Police Commission­er Joseph Gramaglia said. Gendron was not charged.

The teen, police were told, had made comments that spurred concerns he might be planning to shoot people around the time of his high school graduation, according to law enforcemen­t officials. Gramaglia, asked about the threat Sunday, offered this account: “From what I have, it was a generalize­d threat; not a specific threat . . . at a specific place or person.”

Gendron allegedly drove from his home in Conklin to Buffalo on Saturday, donned full tactical gear and opened fire at a busy Tops Friendly Markets store in a predominan­tly Black neighborho­od, shooting 13 in all, including a retired Buffalo police officer working as a security guard who tried to stop him. Gendron surrendere­d at the scene and was charged Saturday evening with

first-degree murder.

On Sunday, federal and state law enforcemen­t officials conducted searches at his home in the small town outside of Binghamton — about 200 miles from Buffalo — and investigat­ors continued to pore over the killing scene, still roped with yellow police tape even as mourners gathered for a vigil across the street and a small memorial of flowers and pinwheels rose.

At the same time, the names of the dead began to emerge. There was Aaron Salter Jr., 55, the security guard who was killed while he engaged the shooter, hailed by Gramaglia as a “hero” who “went down fighting.” There was Ruth Whitfield, the 86-year-old mother of the city’s retired fire commission­er, whose life’s mission was caring for her aging husband in a nearby nursing home. There was Pearl Young, 77, who fed the hungry and was a “faithful member” of the Church of God in Christ, her pastor said in a tweet. And there was Katherine “Kat” Massey, 72, a civil rights and education activist.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown (D), the city’s first Black mayor, on Sunday called for “sensible gun control” to prevent mass shootings, decrying the alleged gunman’s white supremacis­t ideology, which Brown said drove him to drive across the state with the intent to “take as many Black lives as possible.”

“I think the question that we need to ask ourselves: Are any residents safe in this country anywhere?” Brown said on CBS’S “Face the Nation.”

Federal authoritie­s have said they are pursuing the case as a racially motivated hate crime, meaning they may file federal civil rights charges in addition to the state murder charge that has been leveled against Gendron. In addition, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn (D) said Sunday he may also pursue a domestic terrorism charge against Gendron, noting that racially motivated violence could trigger a New York law covering “domestic acts of terrorism motivated by race,” which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

The investigat­ion is in its nascent stages, but two people close to the case, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk publicly, said investigat­ors believe the alleged gunman wrote a 180-page diatribe that laid out his reasoning for the attack, in which the author describes himself as a white supremacis­t and a terrorist. Officials said the gunman apparently wrote a racial slur on one of his weapons, as well as a coded reference to a slogan popular among white supremacis­ts.

President Biden opened his remarks at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service at the Capitol in Washington on Sunday with prayers for the victims of the “hate that remains a stain on the soul of America.”

“A lone gunman armed with weapons of war and [a] hate-filled soul shot and killed 10 innocent people in cold blood at a grocery store on Saturday afternoon,” Biden said. “Jill and I, like all of you, pray for the victims and their families and a devastated community.”

Biden said the White House was in close contact with the Justice Department and noted that investigat­ors there had already stated it was investigat­ing the matter as a hate crime — what he called a “racially motivated act of white supremacy and violent extremism.” Biden spoke with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Sunday to offer his condolence­s and also reached out to the mayor.

The White House later announced that the president and first lady would travel to Buffalo on Tuesday.

Faith leaders urged calm and pressed for accountabi­lity during a prayer vigil Sunday morning outside the market.

Surrounded at the vigil by residents in shock, members of the clergy declared that the attack was part of generation­s of racist violence against the U.S. Black population. Gendron researched which neighborho­ods had the highest percentage of Black residents before embarking on his rampage, authoritie­s have said.

“This is not isolated in our community,” Timothy Brown, senior pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Niagara Falls, told the crowd. “It’s been happening for over 400 years.”

In the 180-page document authoritie­s believe was written by Gendron, the author said he didn’t directly belong to any group or organizati­on but was radicalize­d by browsing online posts on sites like 4chan. But people who attended the demonstrat­ion here rejected that assertion.

“The indoctrina­tion of a boy to kill people that don’t look like him happened around his dinner table and in his locker room,” Brown said. As New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) left the gathering, residents asked her to investigat­e the alleged shooter’s parents.

At another vigil in Buffalo on Sunday morning, Hochul called on elected officials and business owners to address the “lethal force combinatio­n” of ideologies of hate online as well as the rise of gun violence in the United States.

Community leaders also admonished residents who said they wanted retributio­n for the killings. A neighborho­od safety group called Buffalo Peacemaker­s planted yard signs near the market that read, “Nonviolenc­e starts with me,” and “I leave peaceprint­s.”

“I had young men, 20 of them over here saying, ‘I want to burn down this Tops’ and I have to go to them and say, ‘Why?’ They didn’t have an answer,” said Murray Ohlman, who leads the Peacemaker­s. “I said, ‘It’s not the Watts riots.’”

The supermarke­t will remained closed until further notice, the company said Sunday.

Even before authoritie­s released the official list of victims Sunday night, names surfaced in wrenching acknowledg­ments from their families and others.

Gramaglia, the Buffalo police commission­er, said on ABC’S “This Week” that Salter, the security guard, had fired at the shooter multiple times but that the rounds were no match for his bulletproo­f vest.

“I’m pretty sure he saved some lives today,” Salter’s son, Aaron Salter III, told the Daily Beast.

Apart from having a three-decade career in law enforcemen­t, the elder Salter — who described himself in his Linkedin profile as a “jack of all trades, a master of none” — was working on a project to build cars with engines that ran on clean energy. “I would like to realize my dream of getting cars to run off of water using my newly discovered energy source someday,” Salter wrote there.

Massey, the civil rights activist, was extremely close to her two remaining siblings, even living on the same street as them. On Saturday, she had asked her brother, Warren, to drop her off at Tops to do some shopping and to pick her up in 45 minutes.

“I came back and they were putting out the tape,” Warren Massey told The Post on Sunday. “I knew she was gone when she didn’t call us.”

Choking with tears, sister Barbara Massey described Kat as the oldest of five, “the glue” of a very close family, a well-known community figure who dressed up in costume at the local public school, procured trees and safety rails along neighborho­od streets, and assisted in local elections.

“She was the most wonderful person in the world; she’d cut grass in the local park, do the trees, give kids on the street toys. That was my sister, anyone she could help,” said Barbara Massey. Barbara broke down as she described her sister renting a costume for an educationa­l school event to become “Ms. Broccoli” — “for children to learn to eat right.”

Roberta Drury, 32, was also a helper. The youngest of four siblings, she moved from Syracuse to Buffalo in 2010 to assist her oldest brother and help care for his children as he underwent treatment for leukemia.

“She dropped everything to move out there and play house aunt,” said their sister, Amanda Drury, 34. “She was really proud of being able to step in for the family.”

Roberta stayed on as her brother’s home aide and business partner; together they had been rehabilita­ting a historical bar he had bought, the Dalmatia. As an African American child adopted at 18 months into a suburban White family, Roberta was no stranger to racism, her sister said. But in their family, she said, “Race never mattered. So this is just ugly on a level that as a family we can barely wrap our heads around.”

Whitfield, the 86-year-old retired fire commission­er’s mother, had spent the day taking care of her husband, Garnell Whitfield Sr., at the nursing home where he resides. On the way home, she stopped at Tops.

“You hear about gun violence. You hear about a lot of these things all the time,” her son Garnell told The Post. “And unfortunat­ely, it’s a little different when it impacts you personally.”

Ruth was described as the rock of the Whitfield family, who devoted her life to taking care of her four children and her husband of 68 years.

For the past eight years, after he moved to the facility, Ruth’s days had been spent with him; she would cut his hair, iron his clothes, dress him and shave him.

“There’s very few days that she did not spend time with him, attending to him,” Garnell said. “She was his angel.”

Others listed by Buffalo police as killed, in addition to Salter, Drury, Massey, Young and Whitfield, were Margus D. Morrison, 52; Geraldine Talley, 62; Celestine Chaney, 65; Heyward Patterson, 67; and Andre Mackniel, 53. Those injured were Christophe­r Braden, 55; Zaire Goodman, 20; and Jennifer Warrington, 50. The latter two have been released from Erie County Medical Center, police said.

“We have to rally as a family around my father and make sure that he’s well cared for,” he said. “Something she would be proud of us for. So we’ve got a big task ahead of us.”

The Buffalo mass shooting is the deadliest of 2022, according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. It is also the latest massacre in recent years carried out by a perpetrato­r allegedly driven by hate and racism, deadlier than the 2015 shooting at a historic African American church in Charleston, S.C., by Dylann Roof, who was referenced in the lengthy document being investigat­ed by authoritie­s.

The details about the alleged shooter that have emerged so far fit with grim patterns seen in past mass killings. Mass killers often research or draw inspiratio­n from their predecesso­rs, and the online statement investigat­ors believe was posted by the suspect fits this pattern. The author cited by name several other convicted or accused mass killers, including the man charged with killing 23 people, most of them Latino, at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019.

At Gendron’s home in the community of Conklin — a small, majority-white suburb of Binghamton on New York’s southern border — a state trooper blocked the intersecti­on leading to his family’s home, a three-story light blue structure with a big, neatly mowed lawn, a basketball hoop in the driveway and a pool in the backyard.

A classmate from Susquehann­a Valley High School described Gendron as a “super quiet kid” with whom she had once played soccer.

“There isn’t too much that goes on. This town is pretty quiet. There’s not much to do around here. It’s shocking that someone from here did something like that,” said Aiva Gendron, 17, who said she was not related to the shooter.

The Buffalo News reported that a spokeswoma­n for nearby Broome Community College confirmed that the accused shooter had attended the school but was no longer a student.

 ?? LIBBY March for The Washington Post ?? TOP: Charles Everhart Sr., whose grandson Zaire Goodman was wounded in Saturday’s shooting, prays Sunday at True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo. ABOVE: People attend a prayer vigil.
LIBBY March for The Washington Post TOP: Charles Everhart Sr., whose grandson Zaire Goodman was wounded in Saturday’s shooting, prays Sunday at True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo. ABOVE: People attend a prayer vigil.
 ?? MATT Burkhartt for The Washington Post ??
MATT Burkhartt for The Washington Post

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