Buffalo shooting suspect had plans to continue killing, police commissioner says

BUFFALO, New York (WABC) — Had he not been stopped, Buffalo shooting suspect Payton Gendron would have driven out of the Tops parking lot and continued down Jefferson Avenue looking for more Black people to kill, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told ABC News .

The commissioner said investigators have uncovered evidence that suggests Gendron had additional plans, perhaps to include another store where he could open fire.

There were multiple high capacity magazines recovered on Gendron’s person and in his car, the commissioner said. While he declined to say what evidence pointed to additional shooting plans the commissioner said investigators have been going through his phone and other electronics.

A new document obtained by ABC News appears to show how Gendron carefully planned out his attack at least two months before he allegedly shot and killed 10 people at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo.

According to the document, Gendron, on March 8, drove to Buffalo and visited the Tops supermarket and was confronted by a security guard at the store as he was compiling detailed plans of the location.

Police confirmed his visit in a press conference on Monday afternoon.

“The individual was here in early March,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said, citing evidence developed during the course of the investigation.

Gendron’s parents have been cooperative, the commissioner said, but he declined to say whether they would or should face charges, saying that is a decision for prosecutors.

Police have Gendron via license plate reader and other evidence arriving in Buffalo Friday, and he has been traced to several locations.

RELATED | Suspect asked to leave Buffalo supermarket day before shooting

Meanwhile, the suspect apparently made threatening comments that brought police to his high school last spring, but he was never charged with a crime and had no further contact with law enforcement after his release from a hospital, officials said.

The revelation raised questions about whether his encounter with police and the mental health system was yet another missed opportunity to put a potential mass shooter under closer law enforcement scrutiny, get him help, or make sure he didn’t have access to deadly firearms.

Though Gendron had undergone a day and a half mental health evaluation after he expressed a desire last June to carry out a murder-suicide, he was able to legally purchase the semiautomatic rifle police said was used in the attack because there were no criminal charges that resulted from his encounter with New York State Police.

Retired NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, an ABC News contributor, said Gendron seemed an ideal candidate for New York’s Red Flag law.

“You can get an extreme risk protection order to prevent him from possessing a gun or buying another gun,” he said. “That apparently was not done.”

The law, passed in 2019, allows police, relatives or school officials to seek a court petition that calls for the seizure of firearms from people the court seems to be a threat to themselves or others.

It would have taken a proactive step from either police or Gendron’s high school to apply to the court, and part of the investigation includes why that was not done.

Police Commissioner Gramaglia said the nature of Gendron’s threat last June was “generalized” and included nothing specific.

New York State Police declined to comment.

Authorities said Sunday that they were investigating the attack on favorably Black shoppers and workers at the Tops Friendly Market as a potential federal hate crime or act of domestic terrorism.

The commissioner’s account was similar to portions of a racist 180-page document, purportedly written by Payton Gendron, that said the assault was intended to terrorize all nonwhite, non-Christian people and get them to leave the country. Federal authorities were working to confirm the document’s authenticity.

Gendron, 18, traveled about 200 miles from his home in Conklin, New York, to commit the attack, police said. Authorities said he wielded an AR-15-style rifle, wore body armor and used a helmet camera to livestream the bloodbath on the internet.

Former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr., who lost his 86-year-old mother, Ruth Whitfield, in the shooting, asked how the country could allow its history of racist killings to repeat itself.

“We’re not just hurting. We’re angry. We’re mad. This shouldn’t have happened. We do our best to be good citizens, to be good people. We believe in God. We trust Him. We treat people with decency, and we love even our enemies,” Whitfield said at a news conference with civil rights attorney Ben Crump and others.

“And you expect us to keep doing this over and over and over again – over again, forgive and forget,” he continued. “While people we elect and trust in offices around this country do their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal.”

Whitfield’s mother was killed after making her daily visit to her husband in a nursing home.

“How do we tell him that she’s gone? Much less that she’s gone at the hands of a white supremacist? Of a terrorist? An evil person who is allowed to live among us?” Whitfield said.

The victims also included a man buying a cake for his grandson; a church deacon helping people get home with their groceries; and a supermarket security guard.

RELATED | Hero security guard, shoppers among Buffalo shooting victims

The bloodshed in Buffalo was the deadliest in a wave of weekend shootings, including at a California church and a Texas flea market.

The long list of mass shootings in the US involving missed opportunities to intervene includes the 2018 massacre of 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where law enforcement officials had received numerous complaints about the gunman’s threatening statements, and the killings of more than two dozen people at a Texas church in 2017 by a former Air Force member who was able to buy a gun despite a history of violence.

At the White House, President Joe Biden, who planned a visit Tuesday to Buffalo, paid tribute to one of the victims, security guard and retired police officer Aaron Salter. Salter repeatedly fired at the attacker, striking his armor-plated vest at least once before being shot and killed. Biden said Salter “gave his life trying to save others.”

Authorities said that in addition to the 10 Black people killed, three people were wounded: one Black, two white.

Gendron researched the neighborhood’s demographics and conducted reconnaissance before the attack, investigators said. Mayor Byron Brown said the gunman “came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he possibly could.”

Most of the victims were elders, a distinction that historically carries weight in Black communities. The same was true for several of the nine Black people killed in 2015 in a racist attack at a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Buffalo gunman livestreamed the attack on Twitch, prompting scrutiny of how fast social platforms react to violent videos.

Portions of the video circulating online showed the gunman killing multiple shoppers in less than a minute. At one point, he trains his weapon on a white person cowering behind a checkout counter, but says, “Sorry!” and doesn’t shoot. Screenshots purporting to be from the broadcast appear to show a racial slur against Black people scrawled on his rifle.

Gendron surrendered to police who confronted him in the supermarket’s vestibule. He was sponsored on a murder charge. Relatives didn’t respond to messages.

“This individual came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he possibly could,” Mayor Brown said.

WATCH | ABC News Special Report on Buffalo shooting

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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