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Mass shooting at Buffalo supermarket was a racist hate crime, police say

<i>Joshua Bessex/AP</i><br/>People hug near the scene of the mass shooting at the Tops Friendly Markets store on May 14.
Joshua Bessex/AP
People hug near the scene of the mass shooting at the Tops Friendly Markets store on May 14.

By Eric Levenson, Sarah Jorgensen, Polo Sandoval and Samantha Beech, CNN

The 18-year-old suspected of opening fire at a Buffalo supermarket Saturday told authorities he was targeting the Black community, according to an official familiar with the investigation.

The alleged gunman made disturbing statements describing his motive and state of mind following his arrest, the official said. The statements were clear and filled with hate toward the Black community. Investigators also uncovered other information from search warrants and other methods indicating the alleged shooter was “studying” previous hate attacks and shootings, the official said.

The revelation comes a day after a gunman killed 10 people and wounded three others at the Tops Friendly Markets store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. Eleven of the people who were shot were Black, officials said. The victims range in age from 20 to 86, police said. Buffalo police identified all 13 victims Sunday. Among them were a former police officer who tried to stop the shooter, the octogenarian mother of the city’s former fire commissioner and a long-term substitute teacher.

Two people remain hospitalized in stable condition, a spokesman for Erie County Medical Center said Saturday night.

Live updates: Buffalo supermarket shooting

The suspect was identified as Payton S. Gendron, a rifle-toting 18-year-old from Conklin, New York, who allegedly wrote a White supremacist manifesto online, traveled about 200 miles to the store and livestreamed the attack, authorities said.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Sunday the attack was a racist hate crime and will be prosecuted as such.

“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake that this is an absolute racist hate crime. It will be prosecuted as a hate crime,” he said. “This is someone who has hate in their heart, soul and mind.”

Investigators believe the suspect acted on his own in the shooting, Gramaglia said. The suspect was in Buffalo a day before the shooting and did some reconnaissance at the Tops Friendly Markets store, the commissioner said.

Gendron, the suspect, surrendered to police and was taken into custody. He was charged with first-degree murder, prosecutors said, and pleaded not guilty in court Saturday night, Buffalo City Court Chief Judge Craig Hannah told CNN.

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said Gendron is currently under suicide watch.

On Sunday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced $2.8 million in federal and state funding for the victims and their families, according to a statement from her office.

“The past 24 hours have been traumatizing for New Yorkers, and my administration will spare no effort to ensure the victims of this act of terrorism by a white supremacist are receiving all the resources and support they need,” Hochul said in the statement. “The entire world is watching how we will come together as New Yorkers to overcome this unthinkable tragedy. Buffalo, my hometown, is the City of Good Neighbors and New York State will be good neighbors for them.”

New York State’s Office of Victim Services will be in Buffalo throughout the week to help administer funding and assist victims and families in obtaining financial assistance from the state, according to the statement.

In addition, Hochul announced a partnership with rideshare services Uber and Lyft to provide transport to and from local grocery stores for affected community members.

The grocery store company, Tops Markets, is also providing free transportation to members of the Buffalo community affected by the shooting “to ensure our neighbors are able to meet their grocery and pharmacy needs,” according to an update on Twitter from the grocery chain.

“While the Tops location at Jefferson Avenue will remain closed until further notice, we are steadfast in our commitment to serving every corner of our community as we have for the past 60 years,” the statement reads. “Knowing the importance of this location and serving families on the east side of the city, we have taken immediate steps to ensure our neighbors are able to meet their grocery and pharmacy needs by providing free bus shuttle service starting today.”

Saturday’s attack bears similarities to a number of mass shootings in recent years that were motivated by hate and intended to be seen online, including the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.

The Buffalo attack was the deadliest US mass shooting of the year. There have been at least 198 mass shootings so far in 2022, per the Gun Violence Archive, which — like CNN — defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot, not including the shooter.

The owner of a firearms shop in New York told The New York Times that the suspect recently bought a Bushmaster assault weapon. A background check on the suspect at the time showed nothing, Donald told the Times.

“I knew nothing about it until I got the call from them. I couldn’t believe it,” said Robert Donald, whose shop is in Endicott, about 200 miles from Buffalo.

“I just can’t believe it. I don’t understand why an 18-year-old would even do this,” he added. “I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but I feel terrible about it.”

Suspect targeted predominantly Black area

Investigators are reviewing a 180-page purported manifesto posted online in connection with the shooting. The author of the document, who claims to be Payton Gendron, confesses to the attack and describes himself as a fascist, a White supremacist and an anti-Semite.

“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,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told CNN’s Victor Blackwell.

The manifesto’s author says he bought ammo for some time but didn’t get serious about planning the attack until January.

The author writes about his perceptions of the dwindling size of the White population and claims White people are being replaced by non-Whites in a “White genocide.” This “replacement theory,” once a fringe idea, has recently become a talking point for Fox News’ host Tucker Carlson as well as other prominent conservatives.

“We continue to investigate this case as a hate crime, a federal hate crime and as a crime perpetrated by a racially motivated, violent extremist,” said Stephen Belongia, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office.

In the manifesto, the author says the supermarket in Buffalo is in a ZIP code that “has the highest black percentage that is close enough to where I live.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told CNN investigators believe the suspect targeted the busiest place in that area at the busiest time.

“This was targeted by ZIP code,” Hochul said. “This was the highest concentration of African Americans within hours.”

The ZIP code that includes the store, 14208, is 78% Black, according to the US Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey. That is the highest percentage of Black population of any ZIP code in upstate New York.

Hochul said an AR-15 used in the shooting was purchased legally in a gun store in New York state but was modified with a high-capacity magazine, which is not legal in the state.

The suspected gunman had previously been on the radar of police, officials said.

As a student at Susquehanna Valley Central High School, he made a “generalized threat” in June 2021, Gramaglia said. The student was brought in for a mental health evaluation and was released after a day and a half, according to Gramaglia. The threat was not racially motivated, he added.

A spokesman for the New York State Police confirmed to CNN it investigated and responded to a report that a 17-year-old student had made “a threatening statement” in June 2021 at the same high school. The student was taken into custody and transported to a hospital in June 2021 for a mental health evaluation.

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

Earlier Sunday, Hochul said on ABC’s “This Week” the suspect had previously been under surveillance with medical authorities related to “something he wrote in high school.”

In his hometown, the suspect worked at the local Conklin Reliable Market for about four months and left about three months ago, according to the store’s owner. The owner described him as very quiet, while a neighbor similarly said “you wouldn’t get more than a word or two” from him.

How the shooting unfolded

At around 2:30 p.m., the suspect drove to Tops Friendly Markets near the areas of Masten Park and Kingsley. Wearing tactical gear and armed with an assault weapon, the suspect allegedly shot and killed three people in the parking lot and wounded a fourth, according to a statement from Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn.

The suspect then entered the store and exchanged gunfire with an armed security guard who was a retired member of the Buffalo Police Department, the district attorney said. The guard was identified as Aaron Salter, Brown said.

Because the suspect wore heavy tactical gear, however, the guard’s bullets did not have any effect, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Saturday.

“He was very heavily armed,” the police commissioner said. “He had tactical gear, he had a tactical helmet on, he had a camera that he was livestreaming what he was doing.”

Inside the store, nine people were shot before the suspect was apprehended by police, according to the district attorney’s statement.

In a statement sent to CNN, livestreaming service Twitch confirmed the shooting was streamed and said 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 which showed the suspect arriving at the supermarket in his vehicle. CNN is not airing the video.

Grady Lewis said he was outside the supermarket when he heard seven or eight gunshots and saw a White man dressed in tactical gear spraying gunfire at the entry of the store. Law enforcement arrived within two minutes after the shooting began, Lewis told CNN affiliate WKBW. He “heard at least 20 or so shots” before the suspect exited the store.

“He came out, he put the gun to his head, to his chin. Then he dropped it and took off his bulletproof vest, then got on his hands and knees and put his hands behind his back,” Lewis said, describing the moments the suspect was arrested by police. “I thought they were going to shoot him but they didn’t shoot him.”

“I still don’t even believe it happened … that a person would go into a supermarket full of people,” he said. “It was horrible, it was really horrible.”

The Tops Friendly Markets store released a statement Sunday saying it was heartbroken over the violence. “Tops has been committed to this community and to the city of Buffalo for decades and this tragedy will not change that commitment,” the company said.

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

CNN’s Samantha Beech, Tina Burnside, Travis Caldwell, Gregory Clary, Phil Gast, Jennifer Hauser, Chuck Johnston, Jamiel Lynch, Christina Maxouris, Artemis Moshtaghian, Sharif Paget, Shimon Prokupecz, Liam Reilly, Sabrina Shulman, Brian Stelter, Brian Todd and Emma Tucker contributed to this report.

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