The 18-year-old gunman who authorities say killed 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket had previously threatened a shooting at his high school and was sent for mental health treatment, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press.
Payton Gendron had appeared on the radar of police last year after he threatened to carry out a shooting at Susquehanna High School around the time of graduation, the official said. New York State Police said troopers were called to the Conklin 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 an evaluation. The police statement did not give the student’s name.
The law enforcement official was not authorised to speak publicly on the investigation and did so on the condition of anonymity.
Gendron had researched the local demographics while looking for places with a high concentration of black residents, arriving there at least a day in advance to conduct reconnaissance, law enforcement officials said Sunday.
Authorities said Gendron shot, in total, 11 black people and two white people on Saturday in a rampage motivated by racial hatred that he broadcast live.
Federal authorities were still working to confirm the authenticity of a 180-page manifesto that detailed the plot and identified Gendron by name as the gunman, a law enforcement official told AP.
But the shooting — the latest act of mass violence in a country unsettled by racial tensions, gun violence, and a recent spate of hate crimes — left local residents shattered.
It also prompted New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo native, to demand the technology industry take responsibility for its role in propagating hate speech.
Hochul told ABC that the heads of technology companies “need to be held accountable and assure all of us that they’re taking every step humanly possible to be able to monitor this information”.
“How these depraved ideas are fermenting on social media — it’s spreading like a virus now,” she said on Sunday, adding that a lack of oversight could lead others to emulate the shooter.
Twitch said in a statement that it ended Gendron’s transmission “less than two minutes after the violence started”.
Screenshots purporting to be from the live Twitch broadcast appear to show a racial epithet scrawled on the rifle used in the attack, as well as the number 14, a likely reference to a white supremacist slogan.
“It’s just too much. I’m trying to bear witness but it’s just too much. You can’t even go to the damn store in peace,” Buffalo resident Yvonne Woodard told the AP. “It’s just crazy.”
A preliminary investigation found Gendron had repeatedly visited sites espousing white supremacist ideologies and race-based conspiracy theories and extensively researched the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the man who killed dozens at a summer camp in Norway in 2011, the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AP.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Gendron had traveled about 320km from his Conklin, New York, home to Buffalo and that particular grocery store, but investigators believe Gendron had specifically researched the demographics of the population around the Tops Friendly Market, the official said. The market is located in a predominantly black neighborhood.
In a Sunday interview with ABC, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said that Gendron had been in town “at least the day before”.
“It seems that he had come here to scope out the area, to do a little reconnaissance work on the area before he carried out his just evil, sickening act,” Gramaglia said.
The manifesto posted online and purportedly written by Gendron, outlined a racist ideology rooted in a belief that the United States should belong only to white people. All others, the document said, were “replacers” who should be eliminated by force or terror. The attack was intended to intimidate all non-white, non-Christian people and get them to leave the country, it said.
Gendron, confronted by police in the store’s vestibule, put a rifle to his neck but was convinced to drop it. He was later arraigned on a murder charge, appearing in a paper gown before a judge.
Federal agents interviewed Gendron’s parents and served multiple search warrants, the law enforcement official told AP on Sunday. Gendron’s parents were cooperating with investigators, the official said. The official was not authorised to discuss details of the investigation publicly.
Among the dead was security guard Aaron Salter — a retired Buffalo police officer — who fired multiple shots at Gendron, Gramaglia said Saturday. A bullet hit the gunman’s armour, but had no effect. Gendron then killed Salter, before hunting more victims.
“[Salter} cared about the community. He looked after the store,” Yvette Mack, who had shopped at Tops earlier on Saturday, said. “He did a good job you know. He was very nice and respectable.”
Also killed was Ruth Whitfield, 86, the mother of retired Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told churchgoers that he saw the former fire official at the shooting scene Saturday, looking for his mother.
“My mother had just gone to see my father, as she does every day, in the nursing home and stopped at the Tops to buy just a few groceries. And nobody has heard from her,” Whitfield told the mayor then. She was confirmed as a victim later in the day, Brown said.
Katherine Massey, who had gone to the store to pick up some groceries, also was killed, according to the Buffalo News. The names of the rest of the victims hadn’t been released.
“We pray for their families. But after we pray — after we get up off of our knees — we’ve got to demand change. We’ve got to demand justice,” state Attorney General Letitia James said during an emotional church service in Buffalo on Sunday morning. “This was domestic terrorism, plain and simple.”
The Buffalo attack came just a month after a shooting on a Brooklyn subway wounded 10 and just over a year after 10 were killed in a shooting at a Colorado supermarket. — AP
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