The FBI is investigating Saturday’s mass murder that left 10 dead and three injured in Buffalo, New York, as a hate crime, the agency said.
FBI officials said it was “aggressively investigating” the attack as “an example of racially motivated violent extremism”.
Authorities say Payton Gendron, a heavily armed 18-year-old white man, entered the Tops Friendly Markets store in a predominantly black neighborhood around 2:30 p.m. and discharged a barrage of bullets.
He identifies as a white supremacist.
Witnesses said Gendron was wearing camouflage and looked like he was “in the army.” Reports show he was wearing a bulletproof vest. The shooter streamed the assault on Twitch, a live streaming platform.
Eleven of the victims were black and two white.
“This was an outright racially motivated hate crime by someone outside of our community, outside of good neighbor town, as the mayor said, walking into our community and trying to inflict this harm on us,” Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said. said at a press briefing.
Gendron pleaded not guilty to first-degree felony charges Saturday night. Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said it was the highest murder charge in the state. Flynn said he lobbied for the suspect to be arrested Saturday night.
“We are currently investigating terrorism charges, other murder charges, and are working with our federal government partners so they may also be able to press charges. So I assure everyone in this community that justice is being served at this time and justice will be served,” Flynn said during a briefing.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Gendron drove hours from his home in Broome County, New York — more than 200 miles from Buffalo — to commit the crime.
He killed three people in the store’s parking lot before exchanging gunfire with a security guard inside, killing the retired police officer. Six of those killed by Gendron were customers and four were employees. The attacker then turned himself in to police after “putting the gun to his own neck”, according to reports.
“It’s like stepping into a horror movie, but it’s all real. It’s like Armageddon,” a police official at the scene told Buffalo News. “It’s so overwhelming.”
Katherine Crofton told reporters she saw the suspect shoot a woman entering the store and another putting groceries away. A dairy worker, Will G., told the Buffalo News he heard gunshots while replenishing milk. He and others hid in the cooler.
However, some who hid near the cash registers did not escape the killer’s lethal ammunition, according to reports.
Others rushed outside and around the store to search for loved ones and colleagues amid the chaos.
“I just heard gunshots. Blows and blows and blows,” Will G. said. “It felt like things were falling apart.”
Witnesses said the suspect initially ignored officers’ orders “as if he wanted them to shoot him” before shooting him dead.
Gendron faces life without parole on the state murder charge. The judge ordered a forensic examination on Saturday and the suspect is due back in court in five days for a felony hearing.
Law enforcement received a search warrant at Gendron’s home on Saturday night. Investigators have reportedly combed through a 106-page manifesto related to the shooting that shows their admiration for South Carolina church shooter Dylann Roof and New Zealand mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant, ABC News reports.
According to reports, Gendron’s online manifesto shows that he has developed racist views in recent years, which have become more radicalized in the past three years. Gendron had been “passively preparing” for the massacre for several years, reports the New York Times. He stocked up on ammunition and protective gear and occasionally held shooting practice. In May 2020, Gendron began tracking anonymous conversations about “white replacement theory.”
“If there’s one thing I want you to take away from these writings, it’s that white birth rates need to change. Every day the white population decreases in number,” the manifesto reportedly said. “To maintain a population, people must achieve a birth rate that reaches replacement fertility levels, in the Western world which is about 2.06 births per woman.”
Gendron also created a timeline of the attack, including a store layout.
The self-proclaimed white supremacist mapped out his parking spot, selected his meal in advance and chose where he would start the live stream. He wrote down his plan to kill the security guard and shoot black shoppers twice in the chest if he could, according to reports.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul has slammed Twitch and social media companies for failing to take action against hate speech on their platforms, demanding they be held accountable for allowing “this hate to be spat out and other like-minded people to be radicalized”.
“A community has been wiped out by an individual, a white supremacist, who engaged in an act of terrorism and will be prosecuted as such in a cold and calculated, military-style execution targeting people who simply want to buy terrorism products. ‘groceries at a neighborhood store,’ Hochul said during a briefing.
Twitch representatives said the video was deleted within two minutes.