“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.”
The statement came a day after a gunman opened fire at the Tops Friendly Markets store, killing 10 people and wounding three. Eleven of the people who were shot were Black, officials said.
The suspected gunman made very disturbing statements describing his motive and state of mind following his arrest, according to an officer familiar with the investigation. The official told CNN the statements made after the arrest were clear and filled with hate towards the Black community, and he made it known he was targeting the Black community.
“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,” Stephen Belongia, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office.
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.
The victims included a former Buffalo police lieutenant working as a security guard and the 86-year-old mother of Buffalo’s retired fire commissioner, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said. Two people remain hospitalized in stable condition, a spokesman for Erie County Medical Center said Saturday night.
Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said Gendron is currently under suicide watch.
Suspect targeted predominantly Black area
The manifesto’s author says he bought ammo for some time but didn’t get serious about planning the attack until January.
In the manifesto, the author says that 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 that 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.
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, I added.
A spokesman for the New York State Police confirmed to CNN that 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” that the suspect had previously been under surveillance with medical authorities related to “something he wrote in high school.”
How the shooting unfolded
At around 2:30 pm, the suspect drove to Tops Friendly Markets near the areas of Masten Park and Kingsley. Wearing tactical gear and armed with an assault weapon, the allegedly shot and killed three people in the parking lot and wounded a fourth, according to a statement from Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn.
The suspect then entered the store and exchanged gunfire with an armed security guard who was a retired member of the Buffalo Police Department, the district attorney said. The guard was identified as Aaron Salter, Brown said.
Because the suspect wore heavy tactical gear, however, the guard’s bullets did not have any effect, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Saturday.
“He was very heavily armed,” the police commissioner said. “He had tactical gear, he had a tactical helmet on, he had a camera that he was livestreaming what he was doing.”
Inside the store, nine people were shot before the suspect was apprehended by police, according to the district attorney’s statement.
In a statement sent to CNN, livestreaming service Twitch confirmed the shooting was streamed and said the user “has been indefinitely suspended from our service, and we are taking all appropriate action, including monitoring for any accounts rebroadcasting this content.”
“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.”
The Tops Friendly Markets store released a statement Sunday saying it was heartbroken over the violence. “Tops has been committed to this community and to the city of Buffalo for decades and this tragedy will not change that commitment,” the company said.
CNN’s Samantha Beech, Tina Burnside, Travis Caldwell, Gregory Clary, Phil Gast, Chuck Johnston, Jamiel Lynch, Christina Maxouris, Artemis Moshtaghian, Sharif Paget, Shimon Prokupecz, Liam Reilly, Sabrina Shulman, Brian Stelter and Emma Tucker contributed to this report.