(NewsNation) — Shoppers and a retired police officer working as a security guard were among the 10 people shot and killed Saturday at a Buffalo, New York supermarket by a white teenager who authorities say was motivated by racial hatred.
According to authorities, 11 Black people and two white people were shot when a gunman wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera entered a Tops Friendly Market with a rifle and opened fire.
“The evidence we have uncovered so far makes no mistake that this is an absolute racist hate crime,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Sunday. “And it will be prosecuted as a hate crime.”
The suspect, identified as 18-year-old Payton Gendron of Conklin, New York, is in custody after surrendering to authorities, police said.
Gendron was charged with one count of first-degree murder and arraigned in court Saturday.
Gendron had previously threatened a shooting at his high school in June 2021 and was evaluated for mental health treatment, law enforcement confirmed.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Gendron traveled about 200 miles from his home to Buffalo, but law enforcement officials said he had researched the local demographics around the Tops Friendly Market while looking for places with a high concentration of Black residents, arriving there at least a day in advance to conduct reconnaissance.
“This individual came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he could,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a news conference Sunday.
Among the dead was security guard Aaron Salter — a retired Buffalo police officer — who fired multiple shots at Gendron, striking him at least once, according to Gramaglia.
Officials said he was a hero who saved lives by running toward danger.
The gunman was wearing body armor and the shots from the security guard had no effect, according to Gramaglia. Gendron then killed Salter, before hunting more victims.
Also among the dead was Ruth Whitfield, the 86-year-old mother of a retired Buffalo fire commissioner.
She was picking up groceries after visiting her husband at a nursing home, as she did every day.
“My mother was a mother to the motherless. She was a blessing to all of us,” former Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield told the Buffalo News.
Whitfield attributed his mother’s strength and commitment to family to her strong religious faith.
Katherine Massey, who had gone to the store to pick up some groceries, also was killed, according to the newspaper.
The brother of 32-year-old Roberta Drury confirmed to local media outlet WIVB that his sister was killed in in the shooting. She lived with family in Buffalo and recently helped her brother recover from a bone marrow transplant.
Andre Ellicott was someone who was always there for his family. He was visiting from out of town and had gone to Tops to pick up a cake as a birthday surprise for his grandson, according to his cousin, Clarissa Alston-McCutcheon. Katherine Massey was “a beautiful soul” who was killed while shopping, sister Barbara Massey said. Another victim was a church deacon who worked as a driver.
A spokesperson for Erie County Medical Center confirmed Sunday that two of the three survivors from the shooting have been discharged. The spokesperson for ECMC said the third person is in stable condition.
Among the injured was Zaire Goodman, the son of a staffer to State Sen. Tim Kennedy. The 20-year-old was shot in the neck but recovering, Kennedy said.
Kennedy tweeted, “He is now home resting, & beginning the healing process. Please continue to pray for the families of those lost.”
Erie County Sheriff John Garcia called the shooting a “straight-up racially motivated hate crime.”
The supermarket is in a predominately Black neighborhood about 3 miles north of downtown Buffalo. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said there was evidence that indicates the suspect was acting out of racial animosity but Flynn did not specify what that evidence entailed.
Federal authorities were still working to confirm the authenticity of a racist 180-page manifesto that detailed the plot and identified Gendron by name as the gunman, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press.
President Joe Biden late Saturday called for an end to “hate-fueled domestic terrorism,” saying in a statement that acts of domestic terrorism are “antithetical” to U.S. values.
“Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America. Hate must have no safe harbor,” he wrote. “We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism.”
Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden are traveling to Buffalo on Tuesday to “grieve with the community.”
Officials said the rifle Gendron used in the attack was purchased legally but the magazines he used for ammunition were not allowed to be sold in New York.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo native, on Sunday said “wild access to guns” and “unfettered sharing of hate information” online is “a lethal combination”
Hochul, during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said national laws are needed to curb gun access and the online sharing of hate information in the U.S.
“We are dealing with it on the gun side but also on the social media side and the combination of the wild access to guns, unfettered, we need national laws to deal with this, as well as the unfettered sharing of hate information on the internet, that is a lethal combination,” Hochul said. “We saw that on display here just hours ago yesterday.”
The mass shooting further unsettled a nation wracked with racial tensions, gun violence and a spate of hate crimes. A day before, Dallas police had said they were investigating shootings in the city’s Koreatown as hate crimes. 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.
Bishop Perry Davis, the founder of the Stop Violence Foundation in Buffalo, said on NewsNation “Prime” said this shooting was a “shock” to the community.
“We’ve been praying for a safe summer and hoping we wouldn’t have any incidents like this,” Davis said. “But this is quite a shock to our community, to the whole city and to Western New York.”
Davis said the fact police believe the crime was racially motivated won’t change the way the deaths impact families. He is asking the community to stay calm so the situation does not escalate.
“To me, it doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white, if you’re killing people, that’s a loss,” Davis said. “People are losing people and it’s going to hurt just the same. It don’t matter what color the person is that did it, it’s still going to hurt.”
Buffalo is a “resilient” city he said. An incident like this will bring the community closer together, he believes.
The Hill and the Associated Press contributed to this report.