Grieving residents from the US city of Buffalo held vigils Sunday after a white gunman who officials have deemed “pure evil” shot dead 10 people at a grocery store in a racially motivated rampage.
Buffalo, New York police commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told reporters the 18-year-old suspect did “reconnaissance” on the predominantly Black area surrounding Tops Friendly Market and drove there from his home town of Conklin, more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) away.
Wearing heavy body armor and wielding an AR-15 assault rifle, the shooter killed 10 people and wounded three others — almost all of them Black — before threatening to turn the gun on himself. Police talked the gunman down before arresting him.
The suspect, identified as Payton Gendron, was arraigned late Saturday on a single count of first-degree murder and held without bail, the Erie County district attorney’s office said. He pleaded not guilty.
“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake that this is an absolute racist hate crime” and will be prosecuted as such, Gramaglia said Sunday, adding the shooter also had a rifle and shotgun in his car.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown was unequivocal about the shooter’s motivations: “This individual came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he possibly could.”
‘Afraid for her community’
President Joe Biden, speaking in Washington at a service for fallen police officers, condemned the racist extremism and said “we must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America.”
He said the gunman, “armed with weapons of war and a hateful soul, shot and killed 10 innocent people in cold blood” in the western New York city.
“Hearts are heavy once again,” Biden continued, “but our resolve must never, ever waver.”
Earlier Sunday residents gathered outside the store for a vigil, as New York Governor Kathy Hochul and state Attorney General Letitia James addressed a service at the city’s True Bethel Baptist Church.
In alternately angry and mournful tones, speakers denounced the latest eruption of racist violence and the ready availability of powerful guns in what has become a sadly familiar scene across America.
Hochul, herself a Buffalo native, described the crime as a “military-style execution” — she said the shooter carried an AR-15 — and said racist messaging was “spreading like wildfire” especially online.
Hochul called on officials of both political parties to “make sure these people crawl back into their holes and stay there.”
The attack evoked memories of some of the worst racist attacks in recent US history, including the 2015 killing by a young white man of nine worshippers in a Black church in South Carolina, and the 2019 attack by a white man in Texas that claimed 23 lives, most of them Latino.
Attorney General James, who is Black, described Saturday’s attack as “domestic terrorism, plain and simple.”
Later Sunday she gave some details of the victims who included shoppers and store workers, describing an elderly woman who planted trees on her block, and a woman who had gone grocery shopping after visiting her husband at the nursing home.
“I held in my arms a young lady who worked at Tops, who was so afraid that she was about to die, who witnessed the bloodshed, who shaked and quivered in my arms this morning,” James said.
“Who is afraid for her community, afraid also for herself.”
The gunman shot four people in the store’s parking lot, three of them fatally, before entering the supermarket.
Among those killed inside was a retired police officer working as a security guard. He fired several shots at the assailant before being shot himself, police said.
Along with state charges the rampage is being investigated as a federal hate crime, a “crime perpetrated by a racially motivated violent extremist,” said Stephen Belongia, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office.
Media reports linked the shooter to a 180-page manifesto that described a white supremacist ideology and laid out a plan to target a mainly Black neighborhood.
A spokesperson for streaming service Twitch told AFP the shooter used the platform to broadcast the horrific attack live, and that the company had removed the stream “less than two minutes after the violence started.”
In addition to mentioning the South Carolina church shooting, the gunman reportedly said he had been “inspired” by the gunman who killed 51 people in a New Zealand mosque in March 2019.
The semi-automatic weapon used Saturday also had a racial epithet written on its barrel, according to local daily The Buffalo News, citing a local official.
In a video call to True Bethel Baptist Church, New York Senator Charles Schumer called racism “the poison of America” and urged fellow lawmakers to “finally ban the weapons of war from our streets.”
But facing a powerful pro-gun lobby, past efforts by Congress at tightening the nation’s gun laws have generally fallen short — even after horrific shootings.