USA TODAY US Edition
‘Evil, sickening act’ labeled hate crime
Governor vows to silence extremism after 10 shot dead
Vigils, prayer services and rallies were held Sunday across Buffalo, New York, after authorities said an 18-yearold gunman, wearing tactical gear and a livestreaming camera, killed 10 people and wounded three more in a hatefueled shooting rampage at a busy supermarket.
Eleven of the 13 people shot Saturday at the Tops Friendly Markets were Black, Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said. The suspect, who was taken into custody at the scene, is white. The FBI investigated the shooting as a hate crime and racially motivated violent extremism.
“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.
The suspect 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.
Among them was a retired police officer identified by authorities as Aaron Salter. Working as a security guard, he confronted the suspect and shot him. The bullets struck the attacker’s tactical vest, the gunman returned fire and Salter – “a hero in our eyes” – was fatally shot, Gramaglia said.
Hours after the suspect surrendered, he was arraigned on a murder charge. More charges are pending.
The suspect carried an assault weapon inscribed with a racial epithet, said U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., citing briefings with law enforcement.
“We are investigating this incident as both a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism,” said Stephen Belongia, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she directed the state’s Hate Crime Task Force to investigate as well.
Shock, sorrow at vigils, services
One vigil near the shooting scene drew a crowd of hundreds. Among the speakers was the Rev. Mark Blue, president of the Buffalo NAACP, who called for unity and urged people to “support those who have been victimized by this heinous act” of racism.
“Too much hurt is in our community,” Blue said. “We are only stronger when we are together.”
Many neighbors joined the march that followed the vigil.
Michael Ray, who lives about a mile from the Tops store, said the community is close-knit. “That’s what makes this so hurtful, honestly.”
Hochul spoke Sunday morning at a church service at True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo, chastising the “voices of hatred and white supremacy all over the internet.”
“This is in a league of it’s 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.”
How the shooting unfolded
The suspect, identified as Payton Gendron of Conklin, New York, traveled several hours across the state, conducting “reconnaissance work on the area before he carried out his just evil, sickening act,” Gramaglia said.
The grocery store is in a predominantly African American neighborhood of Buffalo.
Gramaglia said Gendron was armed with a rifle when he arrived at the store around 2:30 p.m. Saturday. 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 wore a livestreaming camera. The online platform Twitch said in a statement that it ended the livestream “less than two minutes after the violence started.”
The shooter “worked his way through the store,” firing at others before he was confronted in the lobby by police, Gramaglia said. The suspect pointed his gun at his own neck.
“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.”
Jennifer Tookes said she was walking through the crowded store when she heard gunshots. “I ran through the deli and ran out the back door to get away from him,” she said.
She circled back to the parking lot, where she saw several bodies in front of the store. She got her phone from her car and called her cousin, who was inside the store when gunfire erupted. Her cousin hid in a freezer and was not hurt, she said. They reconnected outside.
“It was scary,” Tookes said. “A lot of people got away, thank God.”
Who is the suspect?
Gendron graduated from Susquehanna Valley High School in Conklin, about 200 miles east of Buffalo near the New York-Pennsylvania border. He said he studied at SUNY Broome Community College, but officials from the school said he wasn’t currently enrolled.
Federal agents interviewed Gendron’s parents and worked to confirm the authenticity of a 180-page, racist manifesto detailing the plot that was posted online, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
Gramaglia said state police and FBI agents spoke with Gendron’s parents at their home in Conklin. He described them as “distraught” but said they cooperated with investigators.
“It strikes us in our very hearts to know that there’s such evil that lurks out there.” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul
‘Stain on the soul of America’
President Joe Biden urged Americans on Sunday to “work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America.”
At a tribute outside the U.S. Capitol for the 563 police officers killed on duty over the past year, Biden said he received updates and was in close contact with the Justice Department.
“Our hearts are heavy once again, but our resolve must never, ever waver.”
The White House said Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Buffalo on Tuesday to show their support for the grieving community.
“Jill and I, like all of you, pray for the victims and their families and a devastated community,” he 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.”
Gendron’s attorney, Brian Parker, requested that his client undergo a psychiatric examination. His next court appearance was set for Thursday morning.
“It strikes us in our very hearts to know that there’s such evil that lurks out there,” Hochul said. “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.”
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia for USA TODAY. Victoria E. Freile is a Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reporter. Contributing: Joey Garrison, Christal Hayes, Kevin Johnson, Merdie Nzanga and Claire Thornton, USA TODAY; Sean Lahman and Tina MacIntyre-Yee, Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle; The Associated Press