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What we know about Buffalo supermarket shooting suspect Payton Gendron

<i>Mark Mulville/AP</i><br/>Authorities say the suspect Payton Gendron
Mark Mulville/AP
Authorities say the suspect Payton Gendron

By Shimon Prokupecz, Christina Maxouris, Dakin Andone, Samantha Beech and Amir Vera, CNN

The 18-year-old man who allegedly shot and killed 10 people Saturday afternoon in Buffalo, New York, was motivated by hate, authorities said, targeting a supermarket in the heart of a predominantly Black community.

Eleven of the 13 people shot by the White suspect at the Tops Friendly Market were Black, officials said. Among the victims, who range in age from 20 to 86, were people grocery shopping, a heroic former police officer who tried to stop the gunman, a long-term substitute teacher and a taxi driver who “took pride in helping people.”

“This was pure evil,” Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said, calling the shooting a “straight-up racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community.”

The US Department of Justice is investigating the shooting “as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism,” according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Payton S. Gendron of Conklin, New York, has been charged with first-degree murder, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said in a May 14 news release. He has pleaded not guilty.

On June 1, a grand jury returned a 25-count indictment against Gendron. He is facing 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime and three counts of attempted murder as a hate crime, according to court documents. Gendron is also facing a charge of domestic terror and a weapons charge, according to court documents.

Gendron pleaded not guilty to the 25-count indictment, his attorney said in court Thursday afternoon.

Gendron’s defense attorney told CNN on May 17 he would not issue a statement now.

Here’s what we know about the suspect.

He planned to ‘continue his rampage,’ police say

When the suspect arrived at the store around 2:30 p.m., he was heavily armed, wearing tactical gear — including a tactical helmet along with plated armor, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said — and had a camera that was livestreaming his actions.

He used an assault weapon, Flynn said during a news conference.

The suspect shot four people outside of the grocery store, three fatally, Flynn said in his news release. When he entered the store, he exchanged fire with an armed security guard, who authorities said was a retired Buffalo police officer. The security guard died of his injuries. The suspect shot eight more people in the store, six of whom died, the release said.

Confronted by police, the suspected shooter took off some of his tactical gear and surrendered, per Buffalo police.

The suspect planned to continue his shooting rampage beyond the Tops supermarket, Gramaglia told CNN on Monday, saying there was “some documentation” he allegedly planned to target “another large superstore.”

“There was evidence that was uncovered that he had plans, had he gotten out of here, to continue his rampage and continue shooting people,” he said.

The suspect made very disturbing statements describing his motive and state of mind following his arrest, an official familiar with the investigation told CNN. Those statements were clear and filled with hate toward the Black community, with the alleged shooter making it known he was targeting Black people, the official said.

The alleged shooter was “studying” previous hate attacks and shootings, investigators have learned via search warrants and other methods.

The suspect was in Buffalo on Friday, the day before the shooting, per Gramaglia, who said he was doing reconnaissance at the store.

Shonnell Harris Teague, an operations manager at the store, saw him Friday afternoon at the store and told him to leave because it appeared he was bothering customers, she told ABC News.

Harris Teague saw the suspect sitting on a bench outside with a camper bag on his back, wearing the same camouflage clothing he wore Saturday, she told ABC. After being asked to leave, he did so without argument, she said.

Her brother, the Rev. Tim Newkirk, backed up the account, noting the suspect “was in there posing as a beggar and was looking for change,” he told The Buffalo News.

“She had to politely escort him out. They have a no peddling policy in the Tops, no panhandling,” Newkirk said, “so she was just letting him know that this was not the place where you do that.”

He spent months plotting his attack, social media posts show

Gendron is believed to have visited Buffalo in early March, Gramaglia said Monday, citing the suspect’s “digital footprint.” Social media posts analyzed by CNN reveal the suspect visited the Tops store in March and had been extensively planning his attack for several months up until the day of the shooting.

According to the posts — which Gendron originally shared on Discord, then on the hate-filled online forum 4Chan — the suspect drove March 8 to the supermarket in Buffalo.

The posts were made visible to a small group of people about 30 minutes before the shooting began, according to a statement from Discord.

Gendron wrote in the posts that he went into Tops Market three times during his visit: at 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. He wrote about activity inside the store each time he went in — noting how many Black and White people were in the market and also drawing a map of the inside of the store.

During his 4 p.m. visit, Gendron was approached by a “Black armed security guard” who asked the suspect what he was doing going in and out of the store, he wrote. The shooter told the security guard he was collecting “consensus data,” according to the posts.

“In hindsight that was a close call,” Gendron wrote.

In a post on March 10, Gendron wrote, “I’m going to have to kill that security guard at Tops I hope he doesn’t kill me or even hurt me instantly.”

The shooter wrote about how he planned his attack for March 15 but then delayed it several times.

In the posts, Gendron cites online research in choosing Buffalo as his site of attack — saying the 14208 ZIP code in Buffalo has a higher Black population than the other locations he was considering.

The shooter considered attacking a church or an elementary school but ultimately chose the supermarket because of the number of people that go to grocery stores, he wrote.

He referred to Google’s “popular times” graph for the Tops Friendly Market in determining the time he would plan his attack — so the grocery store would be busiest.

Discord said that a “private, invite-only server” was created by the suspect and that “approximately 30 minutes prior to the attack,” a small group of people was invited to and joined the server.

“Before that, our records indicate no other people saw the diary chat log in this private server,” it said in a statement to CNN.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families,” the company said. “Hate has no place on Discord and we are committed to combating violence and extremism. We are continuing to do everything we can to assist law enforcement and the investigation remains ongoing.”

CNN asked the Discord spokesperson when the company became aware of Gendron’s posts and if any of the individuals who were invited to view his private server alerted moderators to the content but did not receive an immediate response.

CNN also reached out to 4Chan asking about Gendron’s posts being shared on the platform but has not heard back.

Document talks about ‘dwindling size’ of White population

Investigators are sifting for clues in a 180-page document attributed to Gendron and posted online, Flynn said. The purported “manifesto” allegedly was written by the suspect, officials have said.

“We are obviously going through that with a fine-toothed comb and reviewing that for all evidence that may lead us to besides the manifesto itself,” prosecutor Flynn told CNN.

“All the evidence that we ascertain from that manifesto, from wherever that manifesto leads us, other pieces of evidence we already had, we can then use that and develop more charges potentially,” he added.

The document, independently obtained by CNN shortly after the attack and before authorities released the suspect’s name, is allegedly written by a person claiming to be Payton Gendron confessing to the attack.

The author attributes the internet for most of his beliefs and describes himself as a fascist, a White supremacist and an anti-Semite.

The author bought ammo for some time but didn’t get serious about planning the attack until January, per the document. The author also writes about his perceptions of the dwindling size of the White population and claims of ethnic and cultural replacement of Whites.

The suspect allegedly chose to attack the Tops store in Buffalo because it was in a majority-Black ZIP code within driving distance of where he lived, and he researched what time it would be busiest, according to the document.

He’s from a town hours away from Buffalo

The ZIP code that includes the store, 14208, is 78% Black — the highest percentage of Black population of any ZIP code in upstate New York — per the Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey. Conklin, where the suspect is from, is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Buffalo.

Gendron’s parents were not known to hold extremist views, according to two New York residents who have worked with his parents at the state Department of Transportation and who shared their views on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

“I never thought of the family as racist or hateful,” said one coworker, who said she was heartbroken for the victims’ families as well as Payton’s parents, Pam and Paul. “I can’t wrap my head around this tragedy.”

Gendron was a worker at the local Conklin Reliable Market for about four months before he left about three months ago, the store’s owner said, adding he was very quiet and left on his own terms, giving two weeks’ notice.

Gendron’s mother regularly would walk in the neighborhood, neighbors said. She was a nice woman, one said, adding they “never would have thought that in a million years” Gendron would have racist views. “It’s pretty shocking,” the neighbor added.

When you talked to Payton Gendron, “you wouldn’t get more than a word or two” from him, another neighbor said.

Gendron’s former classmates said while he could sometimes be a loner and “odd,” he wasn’t known to be violent.

“I just don’t understand what convinced him to do this,” said Bryce Gibbs, who said he attended elementary through high school with Gendron and described him as “nice.”

He made ‘generalized threat’ at high school

Gendron made a “generalized threat” in June while he attended Susquehanna Valley Central High School in Conklin, Gramaglia said Sunday, adding the threat was not racially motivated.

State police took the student for a mental health evaluation, Gramaglia said at a Buffalo news conference. After a day and a half, he was released.

The suspect was visited last year by New York State Police after he did a high school project about murder-suicides, Garcia told CNN on Monday. Concerns about alleged mental health issues “were brought to light” after he turned in the post-graduation project, the sheriff said.

State police spokesperson Beau Duffy said that on June 8, 2021, state police officers responded to the high school to investigate a report that a 17-year-old student made a threatening statement. The student was taken into custody under NYS Mental Health Law section 9.41 and transported to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Duffy confirmed it was an evaluation and not an involuntary commitment — so it would not have prevented the suspected shooter from purchasing or possessing a gun under federal law.

State police were unable to confirm how long the person was in the hospital or the findings of the evaluation. The agency also refused to name the then-17-year-old.

The suspect addressed the incident in posts on Discord later shared on 4Chan, writing in a post-dated January 30 that he “had to go to a hospital’s ER because I said the word’s ‘murder/suicide’ to an online paper in economics class.”

“I got out of it,” the suspect claims, “because I stuck with the story that I was getting out of class and I just stupidly wrote that down. That is the reason I believe I am still able to purchase guns.”

“It was not a joke,” the post reads, “I wrote that down because that’s what I was planning to do.”

The suspect goes on to claim his mental health evaluation lasted only 15 minutes after he spent hours waiting in the emergency room. CNN has reached out to New York State police about this account.

Broome County District Attorney Michael Korchak, the district attorney in the suspect’s hometown, is reviewing “all aspects” of last year’s investigation into the threat and also “going back several years” to understand the suspected shooter’s behavior and relationships with family, teachers and other students.

But it’s “hard to say” whether more should have been done in June, Korchak told CNN.

“Unfortunately this is nothing new in the criminal justice system,” Korchak said. “Individuals that have mental health issues may have it under control for a period of time, and then one day they just snap and things as tragic as this happen.”

Investigators are talking to the suspect’s parents and they are being cooperative, Korchak said.

Gun was legally purchased, governor says

The gun used in the mass shooting was purchased legally in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul told CNN earlier, describing the weapon as an AR-15. It’s believed the high-capacity magazine was purchased out of state, the governor added.

In addition to the AR-15, Gendron had a rifle and a shotgun in his car, Gramaglia said. The online diatribe attributed to Gendron said he planned to bring those same three types of guns with him that day.

Here’s how the suspect legally obtained guns

The “main firearm” Gendron planned to use was a Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle that he bought from Vintage Firearms, a gun store in Endicott, New York, before “illegally modifying it,” according to the diatribe. Gendron passed a background check before he bought the gun and he didn’t stick out among his other customers, Vintage Firearms owner, Robert Donald, told The New York Times; no one at the store has responded to CNN’s requests for comment.

Gendron also bought a Mossberg 500 shotgun from Pennsylvania Guns and Ammo, a store in Great Bend, about a 10-minute drive across the state border from his hometown of Conklin, the racist document attributed to him states.

The suspect passed a background check at the store and legally purchased the shotgun in December 2021, the store owner, who did not want his name used, told CNN. The shotgun was not used in Saturday’s shooting.

The third gun was a Savage Axis XP rifle that Gendron’s father bought for him for Christmas in 2020 “so that I could go hunting without borrowing my cousin’s guns,” the document states.

The racist statement also says the shooter planned to use the shotgun and rifle to shoot other Black people on the street as he drove away from the supermarket.

CNN obtained a photo of two long guns allegedly brought to the scene. The photo was confirmed by two law enforcement sources.

The image shows the weapons inside a car, which was found by law enforcement after the suspect’s arrest, according to one of the law enforcement sources. The weapons were not used in the shooting. Writing appears all over the weapons, including the phrase “White Lives Matter” and names including what appears to be the name of a victim of a crime allegedly committed by a Black suspect.

Other notations seized by investigators reflect the racist beliefs of the shooter, as well as his obsession with mass killing, according to a law enforcement source.

He allegedly livestreamed on Twitch

The shooting suspect used the popular livestreaming platform Twitch to stream a live broadcast during the attack, the company confirmed Saturday.

The company was “devastated” to hear about the shooting, it said, adding the user “has been indefinitely suspended from our service, and we are taking all appropriate action, including monitoring for any accounts rebroadcasting this content.”

CNN obtained a portion of the livestream showing the alleged shooter pulling up to a Tops store.

The video is recorded from the point of view of the alleged shooter as he drives into the supermarket’s parking lot. The person is seen in the rearview mirror wearing a helmet and is heard saying, “Just got to go for it,” before he pulls into the front of the store.

In the video, store patrons can be seen walking through the parking lot as the suspect drives up.

The company removed the livestream less than two minutes after the violence started, a spokesperson for Twitch said. The company did not immediately respond to follow-up questions about whether the suspect was firing when the livestream was halted.

He will likely face more charges

The suspect pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree murder Saturday evening before Buffalo City Court Chief Judge Craig Hannah, according to the judge and the district attorney’s news release. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole, the release said.

Gendron’s attorney’s request for a mental health forensic examination was withdrawn, Flynn said. Gendron remains on suicide watch, Garcia said, and in custody without bail.

There may be more charges coming, officials said.

“My office is working closely with the US Attorney’s Office and our partners in law enforcement into potential terrorism and hate crimes. This is an active investigation and additional charges may be filed,” Flynn said.

Gendron is set to return to court Thursday morning for a felony hearing, the release said.

He is likely the “most highly visible incarcerated individual” in the country, Garcia told CNN on Monday. There are video cameras in his cell, and he remains under a sheriff’s deputy’s watch at all times.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian, Evan Perez, Jenn Selva, Donie O’Sullivan, Rob Frehse, Sharif Paget, Sabrina Shulman, Nicki Brown, Mark Morales, Laura Ly, Jon Passantino, Brian Todd, Jennifer Hauser and Brian Stelter contributed to this report.

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