BUFFALO, NY – The white gunman accused of carrying out a racist massacre at a Buffalo supermarket made threatening comments that brought police to his high school last spring, but he was never charged with a crime and had no further contact with law enforcement after his release from a hospital, officials said.
The revelation raised questions about whether his encounter with police and the mental health system was another missed opportunity to subject a would-be mass shooter to further scrutiny by law enforcement, to ask him to leave. help or to ensure that he did not have access to deadly firearms.
Authorities said Sunday they are investigating the attack on predominantly black shoppers and workers at the Tops Friendly Market as a potential federal hate crime or act of domestic terrorism.
Payton Gendron, 18, traveled about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from his home in Conklin, New York, to Buffalo to carry out the attack, police said.
Federal authorities were still working to confirm the authenticity of a racist 180-page document, allegedly authored by Gendron, that the assault was intended to terrorize all non-whites and non-Christians and drive them out of the country.
Law enforcement officials revealed Sunday that New York State Police troopers were called to Gendron’s high school last June, for a report that Gendron, then 17, had done threatening statements.
Gendron threatened to shoot at Susquehanna Valley High School in Conklin, New York, upon graduation, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Gendron had no further contact with law enforcement after a mental health evaluation placed him in the hospital for a day and a half.
“Nobody called,” he said. “No one called a complaint,” Gramaglia said. The threat was “general” in nature, he said, and was not race-related.
New York is one of many states that have enacted “red flag” laws in recent years aimed at preventing mass shootings by people who show warning signs that they might pose a threat to them- themselves or for others.
These laws allow law enforcement, a person’s family, or, in some cases, medical professionals or school officials to ask the courts to temporarily seize a troubled person’s firearms or prevent him from buying weapons.
Federal law prohibits people from owning a firearm if a judge has determined they have a ‘mental defect’ or were forcibly placed in a mental institution – but an assessment alone would not trigger the ‘prohibition.
It’s unclear whether officials could have invoked “red flag” legislation after the incident at Susquehanna Valley High School. Police and prosecutors did not provide details of the incident, or say when Gendron purchased the weapons used in the assault.
The long list of mass shootings in the United States involving missed opportunities to intervene includes the 2018 massacre of 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where law enforcement officials had received numerous complaints regarding the shooter’s threatening statements and the 2017 killing of more than two dozen people at a Texas church by a former U.S. Air Force serviceman who was able to purchase a gun despite a violent history.
Victims of Saturday’s attack in Buffalo included an 86-year-old woman who had just visited her husband in a nursing home, a man buying a cake for his grandson, a church deacon helping people to return home with their groceries and a security guard from the supermarket. .
The shooter livestreamed the attack on Twitch, prompting scrutiny of how quickly social platforms react to violent videos.
President Joe Biden had planned to visit Buffalo on Tuesday.
Gendron surrendered to the police who confronted him in the lobby of the supermarket. He was arrested later Saturday for murder. Relatives did not respond to messages.
A lengthy statement circulating online, attributed to Gendron, described a racist ideology rooted in the belief that the United States should belong only to white people.
Parts of the Twitch video circulating online showed the shooter killing multiple shoppers in less than a minute. At one point, he points his gun at a white person cowering behind a checkout counter, but says “Sorry!” and don’t shoot.
Screenshots claiming to be from the show appear to show a racial slur targeting black people scrawled on his rifle.
Authorities said he shot a total of 11 blacks and two whites on Saturday.
“This individual came here for the express purpose of taking as many black lives as possible,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a Sunday news conference.
Associated Press reporters Robert Bumsted in Buffalo, Michael Hill in Albany, New York, Travis Loller in Nashville and Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed reporting. Balsamo reported from Washington.
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