A white teenager who fatally shot 10 people in a racist attack at a New York grocery store in a Black neighborhood had been taken into custody and given a mental health evaluation a year ago, but was released after roughly a day, authorities said on Sunday.
The suspect, Payton Gendron, 18, surrendered to police on Saturday at the Buffalo, New York, grocery store after what authorities called an act of “racially motivated violent extremism.” He apparently publicized a racist manifesto on the internet.
“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake this is an absolute racist hate crime that will be prosecuted as a hate crime,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told reporters on Sunday.
Eleven people struck by gunfire were Black and two were white, officials said. The racial breakdown of the dead was not made clear.
Gramaglia told reporters that Gendron had been taken into custody and given a mental evaluation over a day and a half last June but was released.
While he did not provide additional details, New York State police said in a statement on Sunday that they had been called to a high school in Gendron’s hometown of Conklin, New York, near the Pennsylvania border, on June 8, 2021, in response to a 17-year-old student making a threatening statement.
Without identifying Gendron, police said the student was taken into custody and given a mental health evaluation at a hospital. He was not charged criminally.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul told ABC News on Sunday that an investigation would focus on what could have been done to stop Gendron, since he had advertised his views online and had been on authorities’ radar.
“I want to know what people knew and when they knew it,” she said.
The Buffalo shooting follows other racially motivated mass murders in recent years, including a Pittsburgh synagogue attack that left 11 dead in October 2018, and the Atlanta spa shootings in March 2021 in which a white man killed eight people, targeting Asians.
Authorities said Gendron drove to Buffalo from his home several hours away to launch the attack, which he broadcast in real time on social media platform Twitch, a live video service owned by Amazon.com.
He then opened fire at the Tops grocery store using a gun that he legally purchased but had illegally modified a high-capacity magazine, Hochul said.
On Sunday, several dozen community members held an emotional vigil for the victims outside the store, where Sharon Doyle, a 55-year-old security guard with Erie County Public Library, led a chant of “Black Lives Matter, my life matters.”
“We all go in this Tops. I was scared to even go to Walmart last night,” Doyle said. “I have to go to work tomorrow and I’m terrified.”
Nearby, at the True Bethel Baptist Church, a reverend led a mournful service for a large crowd of worshipers, including some family of the victims and some who had been at the store at the time of the shooting.
One was Charles Everhart Sr., 65, whose grandson Zaire Goodman, 20, worked at the store. Goodman was shot in the neck but survived.
“He was pushing the carts back to the store and he was one of the first to get hit,” Everhart said.
A 180-page manifesto circulating online on Saturday, believed to have been authored by Gendron, outlined “The Great Replacement Theory” - a racist conspiracy theory that white people are being replaced by minorities in the United States and other countries.
Another document circulating online that appeared to have been written by Gendron sketched out a to-do list for the attack, including cleaning the gun and testing the livestream.
A spokesperson for the Erie County district attorney’s office declined to comment on the documents.
Hochul told reporters she was dismayed that the suspect managed to live-stream his attack on social media, which she blamed for hosting a “feeding frenzy” of violent extremist ideology.
“These outlets must be more vigilant in monitoring social media content,” she said.
Social media and streaming platforms like Twitch, which said it removed the stream after less than two minutes, have grappled with controlling violent and extremist content for years.
“The user has been indefinitely suspended from our service, and we are taking all appropriate action, including monitoring for any accounts rebroadcasting this content,” a Twitch spokesperson said.
Gendron was arraigned hours after the shooting in state court on first-degree murder charges, which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole, said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.
Gendron entered a plea of not guilty and is scheduled to return to court on May 19. He was on suicide watch and isolated from other incarcerated individuals on Sunday, Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said.
Stephen Belongia, the FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s Buffalo field office, said the attack would be investigated both as a hate crime and as an act of “racially motivated violent extremism” under federal law.
U.S. President Joe Biden decried the shooting as “abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation” in a statement on Saturday.
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