BUFFALO, N.Y. – A civil rights advocate, a deacon and a heroic security guard were among 10 people killed in an apparent racism-driven rampage by an 18-year-old suspected gunman who had been kicked out of the store the previous night and had taunted police online.
Among the victims identified by Buffalo police were a retired member of the force working security who was hailed as a hero for trying to stop the gunman at the Tops Friendly Markets store. The victims’ ages range from 32 to 86 years old; most were Black, the suspect is white.
The suspect was identified by authorities as Payton Gendron, 18, of Conklin, New York, about 200 miles east of Buffalo. Gendron would have continued his rampage if he had not been stopped by officers outside the store, Buffalo Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told ABC News on Monday.
“We have uncovered information that if he escaped the supermarket, he had plans to continue his attack,” Gramaglia told ABC News. “He had plans to continue driving down Jefferson Ave to shoot more black people … possibly go to another store (or) location.”
Gendron posted threads on the social media platform Discord about body armor and guns, and last month made provocative remarks about federal law enforcement, the Associated Press reported after getting a recording of a call in which the FBI agent in charge for Buffalo, Stephen Belongia, made that statement.
Two months before the shooting, Gendron was casing the same Tops supermarket when he was confronted by a security guard, the Washington Post reported. Gramaglia confirmed the suspect was in Buffalo in early March.
‘THIS IS THE HEART OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY’:Buffalo shooting rattles close-knit neighborhood
Here’s what we know:
Tops manager says she asked suspect to leave store the night before
Shonnell Harris Teague, an operations manager at Tops, told ABC News she saw the suspect sitting on a bench outside of the store for several hours Friday, the day before the shooting. He had camper bag on his back and was dressed in the same camouflage he wore Saturday, she said. He entered the store that evening and appeared to be bothering customers so she asked him to leave, which he did, Teague said.
The next day she was fleeing out the back door of the store as the gunman shot people in the aisles.
“I see him with his gear on and his gun and how it was all strapped on. … I (saw) all the other bodies on the ground,” she said. “It was just a nightmare.”
Previous threat led to mental health treatment
Gendron had threatened a shooting at Susquehanna Valley High School last year and was sent for mental health treatment, USA TODAY has confirmed.
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 evaluation. The police statement did not give the student’s name. Gendron graduated from the school in Conklin, about 10 miles southeast of Binghamton near the New York-Pennsylvania border.
Gramaglia said Gendron had no further contact with law enforcement after the mental health evaluation that put him in a hospital for a day and a half.
“Nobody called in. Nobody called any complaints,” Gramaglia said. The threat was “general” in nature, he said, and not related to race.
Buffalo man charged over threats; DA warns others: ‘I will prosecute you’
The Tops market rampage appears to have prompted a number of threats of violence, and Erie County District Attorney John Flynn wants them to stop.
A Buffalo man has been arrested and charged with issuing terrorist threats after making intimidating calls to two businesses Sunday and referencing the previous day’s shooting at the supermarket, Flynn said at a news conference Monday.
Citing Buffalo police, WIVB.com said Joseph Chowaniec, 52, called Bocce Pizza complaining about a pizza and threatened to “shoot up Bocce’s like the Tops on Jefferson,” prompting the pizzeria to close. Flynn said that 45 minutes later, Chowaniec made a similar threat to a brewery.
If convicted, Chowaniec faces up to seven years in prison. He has a felony hearing scheduled for Friday and remains in custody pending a forensic examination, Flynn said.
“Let this case send a message out there to any tough guy or anyone who wants to be cute out there … or threatening to do any harm or putting something on social media,” Flynn said. “I will find you and I will arrest you and I will prosecute you.”
New York ‘red flag laws’ allow gun seizures from mentally unstable
New York state’s “red flag” laws try to prevent mass shootings by identifying people who show signs that they might be a threat to themselves or others. Those laws allow family members, law enforcement and medical professionals or school officials to petition courts to temporarily seize the person’s guns or prevent purchase of weapons. It was unclear whether officials could have invoked the “red flag” regulation after the high school incident.
Federal law bars people from owning guns if a judge has determined they have a “mental defect” or they have been forced into a mental institution. An evaluation alone would not trigger the prohibition.
Liz Cheney says GOP leadership ‘enabled’ racism
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, took aim at Republican leaders two days after the massacre in Buffalo, accusing them of enabling racism. Last year the election committee for Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the No. 3 House Republican, blasted a proposal to grant amnesty to 11 million undocumented immigrants as an effort to “overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority.” The claim aligns with Great Replacement Theory, which draws heavy notice in a racist document linked to the accused Buffalo shooter and suggests that white Americans are being systematically replaced by people of color.
“The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism,” Cheney tweeted. “History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”
Buffalo neighborhood like one big family
The Tops store provides a vital service in the “Jefferson Ave” neighborhood, and the company has announced a free bus shuttle service to the next closest location. In addition, the Tops president said in a Twitter post that the company will set up a fund to assist those directly impacted by the shooting. Community groups have begun organizing to help provide groceries to people in need.
The attack transformed a tight-knit community into an epicenter of raw grief and outrage. But residents are rallying. Many know each other like family – and look out for each other like family, too. “This is the heart of the Black community,” said Glen Marshall, who is from the area. “If we don’t live in this community, we grew up in this community. Everybody comes back to the community.”
Assault-style rifle had been illegally modified
The weapon used in the attack was purchased at Vintage Firearms, a collectible firearms and ammunition store in Endicott, Broome County, about 20 minutes from the gunman’s hometown.
The assault-style rifle had characteristics that made it legal in New York – and it was similar to ones used in other high-profile mass shootings, such as those at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee.
But the semi-automatic weapon was modified with an illegal magazine, Gov. Kathy Hochul said. New York bars the sale of any magazine that has a capacity over 10 rounds.
Hochul said law enforcement was working to determine where the magazines used were acquired, but she observed they could be purchased as close as Pennsylvania. She didn’t elaborate on how many bullets the magazines could hold.
WHAT KIND OF GUN WAS USED? What we know
Victims ranged in age from 32 to 86
Police released the names of the victims late Sunday: Aaron Salter, 55; Ruth Whitfield, 86; Pearl Young, 77; Katherine Massey, 72; Roberta Drury, 32; Heyward Patterson, 67; Celestine Chaney, 65; Margus Morrison, 52; Andre Mackneil, 53 and Geraldine Talley, 62.
Gramaglia said Salter was a former police officer who was working as a security guard at the Tops. Salter confronted the gunman, shooting him in his tactical vest. The gunman returned fire and fatally shot Salter.
“He went down fighting,” Gramaglia told ABC News. “He’s a true hero.”
SECURITY GUARD. DEACON. 86-YEAR-OLD SHOPPER: These are the victims of the Buffalo shooting.
Federal agents review 180-page document
Federal agents interviewed Gendron’s parents and were working to confirm the authenticity of a 180-page document that was posted online, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The document detailed the plot and identified Gendron by name as the gunman, said the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. The document espoused the belief that the U.S. 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.
‘REPLACEMENT THEORY’:How the ‘replacement theory’ is fueling extremists and shooters
What happened at the Tops grocery store?
Gendron, armed with an assault-style rifle and tactical gear, arrived at the store around 2:30 p.m. Saturday and immediately shot four people in the parking lot, Gramaglia said. Three died at the scene. Gendron entered the store and continued his attack, police said.
The suspect was wearing a camera and livestreaming. The online platform Twitch said in a statement that it ended the livestream “less than two minutes after the violence started.”
After encountering and shooting Salter, working in the store as a security guard, the gunman continued shooting until he was confronted by Buffalo police, Gramaglia said. Then the suspect pointed his own gun at his neck before surrendering.
Contributing: Cady Stanton, Kevin Johnson and Celina Tebor, USA TODAY; Sarah Taddeo, New York State team.