By Eric Levenson, Sarah Jorgensen, Polo Sandoval and Samantha Beech, CNN
Buffalo, NY (CNN)The 18-year-old suspected of opening fire at a Buffalo supermarket Saturday told authorities he was targeting the Black community, according to an official familiar with the investigation.
The alleged gunman made disturbing statements describing his motive and state of mind following his arrest, the official said. The statements were clear and filled with hate toward the Black community. Investigators also uncovered other information from search warrants and other methods indicating the alleged shooter was “studying” previous hate attacks and shootings, the official said.
The revelation comes a day after a gunman killed 10 people and wounded three others at the Tops Friendly Markets store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. Eleven of the people who were shot were Black, officials said. The victims range in age from 20 to 86, police said. Buffalo police identified all 13 victims Sunday. Among them were a former police officer who tried to stop the shooter, the octogenarian mother of the city’s former fire commissioner and a long-term substitute teacher.
The suspect was identified as Payton S. Gendron, a rifle-toting 18-year-old from Conklin, New York, who allegedly wrote a White supremacist manifesto online, traveled about 200 miles to the store and livestreamed the attack, authorities said.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Sunday the attack was a racist hate crime and will be prosecuted as such.
“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake that this is an absolute racist hate crime. It will be prosecuted as a hate crime,” he said. “This is someone who has hate in their heart, soul and mind.”
People gather outside a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, where 10 people were killed on Saturday.
Investigators believe the suspect acted on his own in the shooting, Gramaglia said. The suspect was in Buffalo a day before the shooting and did some reconnaissance at the Tops Friendly Markets store, the commissioner said.
Saturday’s attack bears similarities to a number of mass shootings in recent years that were motivated by hate and intended to be seen online, including the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.
The owner of a firearms shop in New York told The New York Times that the suspect recently bought a Bushmaster assault weapon. A background check on the suspect at the time showed nothing, Donald told the Times.
“I knew nothing about it until I got the call from them. I couldn’t believe it,” said Robert Donald, whose shop is in Endicott, about 200 miles from Buffalo.
“I just can’t believe it. I don’t understand why an 18-year-old would even do this,” he added. “I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but I feel terrible about it.”
Suspect targeted predominantly Black area
Shooting suspect charged with murder in court appearance. Investigators are reviewing a 180-page purported manifesto posted online in connection with the shooting. The author of the document, who claims to be Payton Gendron, confesses to the attack and describes himself as a fascist, a White supremacist and an anti-Semite.
“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,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told CNN’s Victor Blackwell.
The manifesto’s author says he bought ammo for some time but didn’t get serious about planning the attack until January.
The author writes about his perceptions of the dwindling size of the White population and claims White people are being replaced by non-Whites in a “White genocide.” This “replacement theory,” once a fringe idea, has recently become a talking point for Fox News’ host Tucker Carlson as well as other prominent conservatives.
“We continue to investigate this case as a hate crime, a federal hate crime and as a crime perpetrated by a racially motivated, violent extremist,” said Stephen Belongia, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office.
In the manifesto, the author says the supermarket in Buffalo is in a ZIP code that “has the highest black percentage that is close enough to where I live.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told CNN investigators believe the suspect targeted the busiest place in that area at the busiest time.
“This was targeted by ZIP code,” Hochul said. “This was the highest concentration of African Americans within hours.”
The ZIP code that includes the store, 14208, is 78% Black, according to the US Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey. That is the highest percentage of Black population of any ZIP code in upstate New York.
Hochul said an AR-15 used in the shooting was purchased legally in a gun store in New York state but was modified with a high-capacity magazine, which is not legal in the state.
The suspected gunman had previously been on the radar of police, officials said.
As a student at Susquehanna Valley Central High School, he made a “generalized threat” in June 2021, Gramaglia said. The student was brought in for a mental health evaluation and was released after a day and a half, according to Gramaglia. The threat was not racially motivated, he added.
A spokesman for the New York State Police confirmed to CNN it investigated and responded to a report that a 17-year-old student had made “a threatening statement” in June 2021 at the same high school. The student was taken into custody and transported to a hospital in June 2021 for a mental health evaluation.
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.
Earlier Sunday, Hochul said on ABC’s “This Week” the suspect had previously been under surveillance with medical authorities related to “something he wrote in high school.”
In his hometown, the suspect worked at the local Conklin Reliable Market for about four months and left about three months ago, according to the store’s owner. The owner described him as very quiet, while a neighbor similarly said “you wouldn’t get more than a word or two” from him.
Grady Lewis said he was outside the supermarket when he heard seven or eight gunshots and saw a White man dressed in tactical gear spraying gunfire at the entry of the store. Law enforcement arrived within two minutes after the shooting began, Lewis told CNN affiliate WKBW. He “heard at least 20 or so shots” before the suspect exited the store.
“He came out, he put the gun to his head, to his chin. Then he dropped it and took off his bulletproof vest, then got on his hands and knees and put his hands behind his back,” Lewis said, describing the moments the suspect was arrested by police. “I thought they were going to shoot him but they didn’t shoot him.””I still don’t even believe it happened … that a person would go into a supermarket full of people,” he said. “It was horrible, it was really horrible.”