The white gunman accused of massacring 10 black people in a racist rampage at a Buffalo supermarket planned to continue killing if he escaped, the police commissioner said Monday, as the possibility of a crime federal hate or domestic terrorism charges loomed.
The shooter, who had traveled across the state to target people at Tops Friendly Market, had also spoken of shooting at another store, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told CNN.
“He was going to get in his car and keep going down Jefferson Avenue and keep doing the same thing,” the commissioner said.
The commissioner’s account was similar to excerpts from a racist 180-page document, allegedly written by Payton Gendron, which stated that the assault was intended to terrorize all non-whites and non-Christians and drive them out of the country. . Federal authorities were working to confirm the authenticity of the document.
Gendron, 18, traveled about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from his home in Conklin, New York, to carry out the attack, police said. Authorities said he wielded an AR-15-style rifle, wore a body armor and used a helmet camera to live-stream the bloodbath on the internet.
Federal prosecutors have said they are considering federal hate crime charges in the case.
Former Buffalo Fire Marshal Garnell Whitfield Jr., who lost his 86-year-old mother, Ruth Whitfield, in the shooting, asked how the country could allow its history of racially motivated killings to repeat itself.
“We don’t just suffer. We are angry. We are crazy. It shouldn’t have happened. We do our best to be good citizens, to be good people. We believe in God. We trust Him. We treat people with decency and we even love our enemies,” Whitfield said during a press conference with civil rights lawyer Ben Crump and others.
“And you expect us to keep doing it over and over – over and over, forgive and forget,” he continued. “While the people we elect and trust in office in this country are doing their best not to protect us, not to see us as equals.”
Whitfield’s mother was killed after visiting her husband daily at a nursing home.
“How do I tell her she’s gone?” Even less that it passed into the hands of a white supremacist? From a terrorist? A bad person who is allowed to live among us? said Whitfield.
Among the victims were also a man buying a cake for his grandson; a church deacon helping people get home with their groceries; and a supermarket security guard.
The bloodshed in Buffalo was the deadliest in a spate of weekend shootings, including at a California church and a Texas flea market.
Law enforcement officials said Sunday that New York State Police troopers were called to Gendron High School last June for a report that the 17-year-old had made threatening statements. The threat was “general” in nature and not race-related, Gramaglia said.
Gendron had threatened to shoot at Susquehanna Valley High in Conklin around graduation, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Gramaglia said Gendron had no further contact with law enforcement after a mental health evaluation that took him to the hospital for a day and a half.
It was unclear whether authorities could have invoked New York’s ‘red flag’ rule, which allows law enforcement, school officials and families to ask a court to order the seizure of weapons fire to people considered dangerous. Authorities would not say when Gendron acquired the weapons he had in the deadly attack.
Federal law prohibits people from owning firearms if a judge has determined they have a “mental defect” or were forcibly placed in a mental institution. A rating alone would not trigger the ban.
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 Air Force member who was able to purchase a gun despite a history of violence.
At the White House, President Joe Biden, who was planning a visit to Buffalo on Tuesday, paid tribute to one of the victims, retired security guard and police officer Aaron Salter. Salter shot the attacker repeatedly, hitting his armored vest at least once before being shot and killed. Biden said Salter “gave his life trying to save others.”
Authorities said that in addition to the 10 black people killed, three people were injured: one black, two white.
Gendron researched the neighborhood’s demographics and conducted a reconnaissance before the attack, investigators said. Mayor Byron Brown said the shooter “came here for the express purpose of taking as many black lives as possible.”
Most of the victims were elders, a distinction that historically carries weight in black communities. So did several of the nine black people killed in 2015 in a racist attack at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Buffalo shooter livestreamed the attack on Twitch, prompting scrutiny of how quickly social platforms respond to violent videos.
Parts of the video circulating online showed the shooter killing several shoppers in less than a minute. At one point, he raises 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 against black people scrawled on his gun.
Gendron surrendered to the police who confronted him in the lobby of the supermarket. He was indicted for murder. Relatives did not respond to messages.
Associated Press reporters Karen Matthews and Jennifer Peltz in New York; Dave Collins in Hartford, Connecticut; Robert Bumsted in Buffalo; and Michael Hill at Conklin contributed to this report. Balsamo reported from Washington.
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