Ten people were shot at a Buffalo supermarket on Saturday in a horrific mass shooting that authorities were quick to call “pure evil” and racially motivated.

The shooting stunned a community enjoying a warm May afternoon, with shoppers filling the Tops in a predominantly black neighborhood at 1275 Jefferson Ave.

'Pure evil': Racial motives cited in mass shooting that killed 10 at Buffalo supermarket

US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the Justice Department “is investigating this matter as a hate crime and a racially motivated act of violent extremism.”

“It’s the weekend, so it was packed,” Shonnell Harris, an operations manager who was working at the Tops during the shooting, told The Buffalo News.

Harris said that when he heard gunshots, he ran frantically through the store, falling several times before exiting out the back. He saw the shooter, whom he described as a white male dressed in camouflage.

“It looked like he was in the army,” he said. She thought she heard 70 shots.

Of the 13 people shot, 11 were black and two were white, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said. Most of the victims’ identities were not released until Saturday night. However, sources told The News that one of the dead was Aaron Salter, a recently retired Buffalo police officer who worked as a security guard at the store, while another was Ruth Whitfield, the mother of the former commissioner of Buffalo Firefighter Garnell Whitfield.

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“We are hurt and we are boiling right now as a community,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a news conference after the shooting.

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Here’s what we know and don’t know about the mass shooting at the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo.

Katherine Crofton, a retired firefighter and doctor, witnessed the shooting from her porch on Riley Street. She said that she was playing with her dog and smoking a cigarette when she heard a gunshot.

“I didn’t see him at first, I turned around and I saw him shoot this woman,” Crofton said. “She had just entered the store. And then she shot another woman. She was putting groceries in her car. I got off because I didn’t know if she was going to shoot me.”

Recently retired police officer, mother of former fire commissioner, both killed in Tops shooting

Described by Buffalo Police Chief Joseph Gramaglia as “a hero in our eyes,” Aaron Salter is credited with confronting and shooting the shooter at the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue before he was shot to death on Saturday.

Four of those shot were store employees. Among the dead was the security guard, who confronted the gunman, Gramaglia reported.

Gramaglia hailed Salter as a hero.

The three injured victims were taken to the Erie County Medical Center. A hospital spokesman said one was released and the other two were in stable condition on Saturday night.

As the shooter exited Tops Market, Braedyn Kaphart and Shayne Hill came almost face-to-face with him as they parked their car in a parking space in Tops’s parking lot.

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The shooter appeared to be preparing to kill himself, Kaphart said.

“He was standing there in his military gear and his gun to his chin, like he was going to blow his head off,” Kaphart said. “We weren’t sure what was going on. As he continued to do that, he got down on one knee and it still looked like he was going to shoot himself.”

Kaphart said he looked away momentarily as police yelled at them to get back in their car.

When Kaphart looked back, he said it appeared the officers had tackled the man.

Crofton also saw the emergency services arrive.

“The guy walked out of the store, the cops were just yelling at him and he just stood there. He just stood there. It was like he wanted to be shot,” Crofton said. The shooter began to remove his gear, Crofton continued, when another police car pulled up, officers got out and lunged at him.

Gunman, 18, drove more than 3 hours to Buffalo to commit hate crime, authorities say

Payton S. Gendron, 18, of Broome County, was arraigned before Buffalo City Court Judge Craig Hannah on one count of first-degree murder. If he is convicted, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The accused gunman was arraigned Saturday night before Buffalo City Court Judge Craig Hannah on a first-degree murder charge.

He was identified in court as Payton Gendron, 18, of Conklin in Broome County, near Binghamton.

Local FBI chief Stephen Belongia said the agency is investigating this “as a hate crime and as racially motivated violent extremism.”

“It was,” Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said, “straight up, a racially motivated hate crime.”

Garcia added: “This person was pure evil.”

Just six minutes after police were first dispatched to the store, a suspect in the horrific mass murder that left 10 people dead was in their custody, according to archived police and fire radio transmissions. The broadcasts described a somber scene in which first responders discovered that more violence had occurred there.

At least four bodies were found in the parking lot, a police officer at the scene said. Inside the supermarket, several other victims were found, sources said, with some of the deceased appearing to be hiding near checkout lines.

“It’s like walking into a horror movie, but everything is real. It’s like Armageddon,” a police source told The News. “It’s so overwhelming.”

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said investigators have collected evidence showing “racial animosity” was behind the attack.

“A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation,” President Biden said in a statement released Saturday night. “Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America. Hate should not have a safe harbor.”

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Photos from inside the courtroom show a man sitting in a white paper gown and white face mask.

The accused shooter, who turns 19 next month, has a minimal online presence under that name. He studied at SUNY Broome Community College, but said he no longer studies there. A university spokeswoman did not elaborate on when he attended the school or when and why he left.

“I have confirmed that we have a former student by that name. They are no longer enrolled,” Silvia C. Briga, director of marketing, communications and public information for SUNY Broome, said in an email.

Police investigate mass shooting in Buffalo as

“This is pure evil, a racially motivated hate crime,” Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said, citing evidence he chose not to elaborate on.

A 180-page hate-filled manifesto, allegedly written by the accused shooter, circulated on social media in the hours after the mass shooting. The Buffalo News could not immediately verify its authenticity.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who flew from Albany to Buffalo on Saturday night, described the mass shooting as “an act of terrorism.”

“It strikes us to the heart to know that there is so much evil lurking out there,” he told a news conference. “Yes, I am here to comfort the families and the community that are feeling so much pain right now, but mark my words, we will be aggressive in our pursuit of anyone who subscribes to the professed ideals of other white supremacists.”

Hochul then took aim at social media sites that support those views.

“Those who provide these platforms,” ​​he said, “have a moral, an ethical and I hope I have a legal responsibility to ensure that hate cannot populate these sites, because this is the result.”

Law enforcement sources reported that the shooter was wearing a bulletproof vest, had a military-grade helmet on his head, was armed with a high-powered rifle, and broadcast live video of the attack.

“It’s like a dream, but I know it’s not a dream,” said Harris, Tops operations manager. GYC Ministries pastor Tim Newkirk, with his arm around his sister Harris, said, “It’s something you hear about but never experience.”

“You see it on TV, I never thought I’d be one of them,” Harris said. Harris, whose daughter Denise also works at the supermarket, was found safe behind the building. “I just grabbed her, hugged her.”

News staff reporters Aaron Besecker, Mark Sommer, Matthew Spina, Charlie Specht, Steve Watson, Harold McNeil, Jon Harris, Sandy Tan and Dale Anderson contributed to this report.

Coverage of this story is provided free of charge to all readers. Support our journalism and the newsroom that provides this coverage by subscribing to The Buffalo News.

Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at [email protected], (716) 849-6927, or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.


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