A gunman wearing tactical gear opened fire in a busy supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo on Saturday, killing 10 people and injuring three others in the country's latest high-profile crime apparently motivated by hate, authorities say.
Officials said the suspected gunman, a white 18-year-old man, traveled several hours across New York to carry out the attack, which he livestreamed on social media. Eleven of the 13 people who were shot were Black, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said at a news conference.
Gov. Kathy Hochul called the gunman a "white supremacist" who terrorized New York's second-largest city in a "cold-hearted," "military-style execution" as people were buying groceries.
"It strikes us in our very hearts to know that there's such evil that lurks out there," she said. "This individual – this white supremacist – who just perpetrated a hate crime on an innocent community, will spend the rest of his days behind bars. And heaven help him in the next world as well."
The suspect carried an assault weapon inscribed with a racial epithet, said Rep. Brian Higgins, citing briefings with law enforcement officials.
“I was on site for the last three hours, and I listened carefully to what the FBI, police, the district attorney and the U.S. attorney had to say,” Higgins said. “There is no doubt this was a racially motivated attack.”
The suspect, identified as Payton Gendron of Conklin, a New York community about 200 miles southeast of Buffalo, was taken into custody after the attack. He was arraigned on first-degree murder charges and appeared in court Saturday evening wearing a bandage over his shoulder.
John Flynn, Erie County's district attorney, said along with the murder charge, his office and federal authorities were pursuing others, from terrorism to hate crimes.
The supermarket is about three miles north of downtown Buffalo. The surrounding area is primarily residential and is surrounded by homes, along with a Family Dollar store, barber shops, a laundromat and fire station. Authorities said evidence showed the suspect showed racial animosity but declined to elaborate.
Gramaglia said the gunman was wearing tactical gear and was armed with an assault-styled rifle. He parked outside the Tops Friendly Market around 2:30 p.m. and opened fire in the parking lot, killing three people and injuring a fourth. He then went inside and continued his rampage, Gramaglia said.
A retired Buffalo police officer, who was working as a security guard at the store, confronted the gunman and shot him. Authorities said the gunman was hit, but his tactical gear prevented injury.
The gunman returned fire, killing the guard.
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The gunman made his way through the store, firing at others before he was met by law enforcement near the lobby. Authorities said the gunman had his weapon pointed at his head and authorities were able to negotiate his surrender.
“This is the worst nightmare that any community can face, and we are hurting and we are seething right now,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a news conference. “The depth of pain that families are feeling and that all of us are feeling right now cannot even be explained.”
The Buffalo attack and the quick determination that the assault was racially motivated drew early parallels to the 2019 attack in El Paso, Texas where a gun man confessed to traveling hundreds of miles to target Hispanics at a local Walmart. The Texas attack left 23 dead. In the Buffalo case, a law enforcement official said, investigators are examining writings allegedly linked to the shooter indicating that the assault was motivated by hate.
“We are investigating this incident as both a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism,” said Stephen Belongia, special agent of charge of the FBI's Buffalo field office.
In the past year, FBI Director Christopher Wray has repeatedly warned of the threat posed by racially motivated violent extremists, telling Congress that such cases represent the "biggest chunk" of the bureau's domestic terrorism investigations. The same group, Wray told a Senate committee last year, were responsible for the most lethal attacks in the past decade.
Authorities say the gunman livestreamed the attack to social media. The footage shows the gunman, dressed in military gear, pulling up to the front of the store with a rifle on the front seat and then pointing the rifle at people in the parking lot as he exited the vehicle and opening fire, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press.
It also shows the suspect walking into the supermarket and shooting several other victims, the official said.
"This was pure evil," Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said. "It was a straight-up racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community."
Higgins acknowledged that authorities were reviewing the contents of a graphic manifesto in which the attacker referenced other racially motivated attackers, including Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist, who in 2015 killed nine people at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“This is what all the anecdotal evidence adds up to,” Higgins said.
Braedyn Kephart and Shane Hill, both 20, said they'd just pulled into the parking lot of the store when they saw the alleged gunman leaving and being taken into custody.
“He was standing there with the gun to his chin. We were like what the heck is going on? Why does this kid have a gun to his face?" Kephart said. He dropped to his knees. “He ripped off his helmet, dropped his gun, and was tackled by the police.”
Hochul said the suspect acquired the rifle used in the attack legally but the weapon had been modified with illegal magazines. New York bars the sale of any magazine that has a capacity over 10 rounds.
She said law enforcement was working to determine where the magazines were acquired but noted they could be purchased as close as Pennsylvania. She didn't elaborate on how many bullets the magazines could hold.
President Joe Biden was briefed on the attack and was praying for those affected, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson called the shooting “absolutely devastating."
“Our hearts are with the community and all who have been impacted by this terrible tragedy. Hate and racism have no place in America. We are shattered, extremely angered and praying for the victims’ families and loved ones," he added in a statement.
The Rev. Al Sharpton issued a series of posts on Twitter, calling on the White House to convene a meeting with Black, Jewish and Asian “to underscore the Federal government (is) escalating its efforts against hate crimes.” He added “leaders of all these communities should stand together on this!”
Hochul also expressed the need for changes, noting the gunman was active online and shared both his racist views and a livestream of his rampage.
"There's a feeding frenzy on social media platforms where hate festers more hate. That has to stop," she said. These outlets must be more vigilant in monitoring social media content."
Contributing: Diana Dombrowski, Journal News; The Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Buffalo shooting kills 10 at supermarket; Payton Gendron arraigned