By Shimon Prokupecz, Artemis Moshtaghian, Christina Maxouris, Samantha Beech, Dakin Andone and Amir Vera, CNN
The 18-year-old man who allegedly shot and killed 10 people in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday afternoon was motivated by hate, authorities said, targeting a supermarket in the heart of a predominantly Black community.
Eleven of the 13 people shot by the White suspect at the Tops Friendly Market were Black, officials said. Among the victims, who range in age from 20 to 86, were people doing grocery shopping, a heroic former police officer who tried to stop the gunman, a long-term substitute teacher and a taxi driver who “took pride in helping people.”
“This was pure evil,” Erie County Sheriff John C. Garcia said Saturday, calling the shooting a “straight up racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community.”
The US Department of Justice is investigating the shooting “as a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism,” according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Payton S. Gendron of Conklin, New York, was charged with first-degree murder, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said in a news release. He has pleaded not guilty.
Here’s what we know about the suspect.
He planned to ‘continue his rampage,’ police say
Authorities say when the suspect arrived at the store around 2:30 p.m., he was heavily armed, wearing tactical gear — including a tactical helmet along with plated armor, Gramaglia said — and had a camera that was livestreaming his actions.
The suspect used an assault weapon, Flynn said during a news conference.
The suspect shot four people outside of the grocery store, three fatally, Flynn said in his news release. When he entered the store, he exchanged fire with an armed security guard, who authorities said was a retired Buffalo police officer. The security guard died of his injuries. The suspect shot eight more people in the store, six of whom died, the release said.
Confronted by police, the suspected shooter took off some of his tactical gear and surrendered, per Buffalo police.
The suspect planned to continue his shooting rampage beyond the Tops supermarket, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told CNN on Monday, saying there was “some documentation” he allegedly planned to target “another large superstore.”
“There was evidence that was uncovered that he had plans, had he gotten out of here, to continue his rampage and continue shooting people,” Gramaglia said in an interview.
The suspect made very disturbing statements describing his motive and state of mind following his arrest, an official familiar with the investigation told CNN.
The official said the statements made after the arrest were clear and filled with hate toward the Black community. The alleged shooter made it known he was targeting the Black community during the statements, according to the official.
Investigators have uncovered information from search warrants and other methods indicating the alleged shooter was “studying” previous hate attacks and shootings.
He spent months plotting his attack, social media posts show
Gendron is believed to have visited Buffalo in early March, Gramaglia said Monday. Officials previously said the suspect arrived in Buffalo on Friday for the first time to scout out the Tops Friendly Markets store. However, Gramaglia updated that timeline based on what he described as the suspect’s “digital footprint.”
Social media posts analyzed by CNN reveal that the suspect visited the Tops in March and had been extensively planning his attack for several months up until the day of the shooting.
According to the posts, which Gendron originally posted on Discord and then shared on the hate-filled online forum 4Chan, the suspect drove to the supermarket in Buffalo on March 8.
Gendron wrote in the posts that he went into Tops Market three times during his visit: once at 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and again at 4 p.m. He wrote about activity taking place inside the store each time he went in — noting how many Black and White people were in the market and also drawing a map of the inside of the store.
During his last visit to Tops at 4 p.m., Gendron wrote that he was approached by a “Black armed security guard” who asked the suspect what he was doing going in and out of the store. The shooter told the security guard that he was collecting “consensus data,” according to the posts.
“In hindsight that was a close call,” Gendron wrote.
In a post on March 10 Gendron wrote, “I’m going to have to kill that security guard at Tops I hope he doesn’t kill me or even hurt me instantly.”
The shooter wrote about how he planned his attack for March 15 but then delayed the date several times.
In the posts, Gendron cites online research in choosing Buffalo as his site of attack — saying that the 14208 zip code in Buffalo has a higher Black population than the other locations he was considering.
The shooter wrote that he considered attacking a church or an elementary school, but ultimately chose the grocery store because of the number of people that go to grocery stores.
He referred to Google’s popular times graph for the Tops Friendly Market in determining the time he would plan his attack — so that the grocery store would be the busiest.
Document talks about ‘dwindling size’ of White population
Investigators are going through a 180-page document posted online for clues, Flynn said. Officials have described the document as a purported “manifesto” allegedly written by the suspect.
“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,” the DA told CNN Sunday afternoon.
“All the evidence that we ascertain from that manifesto, from wherever that manifesto leads us, other pieces of evidence we already had, we can then use that and develop more charges potentially,” he added.
The document, independently obtained by CNN shortly after the attack and before authorities released the suspect’s name, is allegedly written by a person claiming to be Payton Gendron confessing to the attack.
The author attributes the internet for most of his beliefs and describes himself as a fascist, a White supremacist and an anti-Semite.
The author bought ammo for some time but didn’t get serious about planning the attack until January, per the document. The author also writes about his perceptions of the dwindling size of the White population and claims of ethnic and cultural replacement of Whites.
According to the document, the suspect allegedly chose to attack the Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo because it was in a majority-Black ZIP code within driving distance of where he lived, and he researched what time it would be busiest.
The ZIP code that includes the store, 14208, is 78% Black — the highest percentage of Black population of any ZIP code in upstate New York — per the US Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey. Conklin, where the suspect is from, is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Buffalo.
Gendron’s parents were not known to hold extremist views, according to two New York residents who have worked with his parents at the state Department of Transportation and who shared their views on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.
“I never thought of the family as racist or hateful,” said one co-worker, who said she was heartbroken for the victims’ families as well as Payton’s parents, Pam and Paul. “I can’t wrap my head around this tragedy.”
He made ‘generalized threat’ at high school in 2021
Gendron made a “generalized threat” while he attended Susquehanna Valley Central High School in June 2021, Gramaglia said Sunday.
In response to a question from CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz at a Buffalo news conference, Gramaglia said state police brought the student in for a mental health evaluation. After a day and a half, he was released.
The threat was not racially motivated, Gramaglia said.
Sheriff Garcia told CNN on Monday the suspect was visited last year by New York State Police after he did a high school project about murder-suicides.
According to Garcia, concerns about alleged mental health issues “were brought to light” after he turned in the post-graduation project.
“The state police arrived at his house at that point last year,” Garcia said. “He stayed at a facility — I’m not sure if it was a hospital or a mental health facility — for a day and a half.”
Separately, a spokesperson for New York State Police told CNN on Sunday it investigated a report that a 17-year-old student had made “a threatening statement.” The student was taken to a hospital in June 2021 for a mental health evaluation.
State police responded to Susquehanna High School in Conklin, on June 8, 2021, following the threatening statement, the spokesperson said.
“The student was taken into custody under NYS Mental Health Law section 9.41 and transported to the hospital for a mental health evaluation,” state police told CNN in an email.
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.
Gendron was a worker at the local Conklin Reliable Market for about four months before he left about three months ago, according to the store’s owner. The owner of the store says he was very quiet and left on his own terms, giving two weeks’ notice.
Neighbors say they would see Gendron’s mother regularly walking in the neighborhood. One neighbor said the mother was a nice woman, and they “never would have thought that in a million years” Gendron would have racist views. The neighbor added, “It’s pretty shocking.”
Another neighbor said when you talked to Payton Gendron, “you wouldn’t get more than a word or two” from him.
Gendron’s former classmates said while he could sometimes be a loner and “odd,” he wasn’t known to be violent.
“I just don’t understand what convinced him to do this,” said former classmate, Bryce Gibbs, who said he attended elementary through high school with Gendron and described him as “nice.”
Gun was legally purchased in New York state, governor says
It’s not clear if the suspect should have been prevented from being sold a gun in New York state, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Sunday, after it’s emerged the gunman was once investigated over something he had written in high school.
Earlier, Hochul told CNN the gun used in the Buffalo mass shooting where 10 people were killed on Saturday was purchased legally in New York state. In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union,” Hochul described the weapon as an AR-15. It’s believed the high-capacity magazine was purchased outside of New York, the governor added.
In addition to the AR-15, Gramaglia said Gendron had a rifle and a shotgun in his car. The online diatribe attributed to Gendron said he planned to bring those same three types of guns with him that day.
The “main firearm” Gendron planned to use was a Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle that he bought from Vintage Firearms, a gun store in Endicott, New York, before “illegally modifying it,” according to the diatribe. Vintage Firearms did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment, but the store’s owner, Robert Donald, told The New York Times Gendron passed a background check before he bought the gun and he didn’t stick out among his other customers.
According to the document, Gendron also bought a Mossberg 500 shotgun from Pennsylvania Guns and Ammo, a store in Great Bend, about a 10-minute drive across the state border from his hometown of Conklin, New York. The store did not respond to requests for comment from CNN.
The third gun was a Savage Axis XP rifle that the document states Gendron’s father purchased for him for Christmas in 2020 “so that I could go hunting without borrowing my cousin’s guns.”
The racist statement also says the shooter planned to use the shotgun and rifle to shoot other Black people on the street as he drove away from the supermarket.
CNN obtained a photo of two long guns allegedly taken by Gendron to the scene. The photo was confirmed by two law enforcement sources.
The image shows the weapons inside a car, which was found by law enforcement after the shooter’s arrest, according to one of the law enforcement sources. The weapons were not used in the shooting. Writing appears all over the weapons, including the phrase “White Lives Matter” and names including what appears to be the name of a victim of a crime allegedly committed by a Black suspect.
Other notations seized by investigators reflect the racist beliefs of the shooter, as well as his obsession with mass killing, according to a law enforcement source.
Speaking to Margaret Brennan on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Hochul was asked how the 18-year-old suspect was able to legally purchase a gun, given the fact he had been investigated for past comments.
“That is exactly what is being investigated now,” Hochul responded. “I understand that he wrote something when he was in high school and that was being investigated. So we’re going to get to the bottom of that.”
Asked by Brennan if the sale of the gun was an oversight by the State, Hochul said, “We don’t know that right now. But I’m going to get to the bottom of it and find out right now. It would have happened a while back.”
He allegedly livestreamed on Twitch
The shooting suspect used the popular livestreaming platform Twitch to stream a live broadcast during the attack, the company confirmed Saturday.
The company was “devastated” to hear about the shooting, it said, adding 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 showing the alleged shooter pulling up to a Tops store.
The video is recorded from the point of view of the alleged shooter as he is driving into the supermarket’s parking lot. The person is seen in the rearview mirror wearing a helmet and is heard saying, “Just got to go for it,” before he pulls into the front of the store.
In the video, store patrons can be seen walking through the parking lot as the suspect drives up.
A spokesperson for Twitch said the company removed the livestream less than two minutes after the violence started. The company did not immediately respond to follow-up questions about whether the suspect was actively firing when the livestream was halted.
He will likely face more charges
The suspect was arraigned Saturday evening before Buffalo City Court Chief Judge Craig Hannah on one count of first-degree murder, the district attorney’s news release said.
He pleaded not guilty, Hannah told CNN. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole, the release said.
Flynn, the Erie County DA, said Gendron’s defense attorney’s request for a mental health forensic examination has been withdrawn.
“The mental health forensic part of this has now become a moot point and is now off the table,” Flynn said.
Gendron remains on suicide watch, according to Sheriff Garcia.
And there may be more charges coming, officials said.
“My office is working closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our partners in law enforcement into potential terrorism and hate crimes. This is an active investigation and additional charges may be filed,” Flynn said in a statement.
Gendron is set to return to court on the morning of May 19 for a felony hearing, the release said. He will remain in custody without bail, it added.
He is likely the “most highly visible incarcerated individual” in the country, Garcia told CNN Monday. There are video cameras in his cell, and he remains under watch by an Erie County sheriff’s deputy at all times, Garcia said.
“He’s in a unit with no commingling with other incarcerated individuals,” Garcia added.
Meanwhile, authorities continue to investigate the suspected shooter. Investigators are collecting evidence from the crime scene, the home he lived in with his parents, the car he used and his history on social media, the DA said.
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CNN’s Evan Perez, Jenn Selva, Sharif Paget, Sabrina Shulman, Nicki Brown, Laura Ly, Jon Passantino and Brian Stelter contributed to this report.