The suspect, Payton Gendron, surrendered to police and was charged with first-degree murder. Gendron pleaded not guilty and was held without bail.
Stephen Belongia, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office, said law enforcement officials were investigating the shooting as a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism. Gramaglia said 11 of the 13 people shot were Black.
BREAKING: BPD on scene of a mass shooting at the Tops in the 1200 block of Jefferson Avenue. Police say multiple people have been struck by gunfire. The shooter is in custody. Motorists and residents are urged to avoid the area.
— Buffalo Police Dept (@BPDAlerts) May 14, 2022
Gramaglia added that the gunman, who was wearing tactical gear, used a camera to live-stream the attack and shot several victims in the parking lot before entering the store.
The grocery’s longtime security guard fired back, but the gunman’s body armor repelled the shot, and the guard was killed in the encounter, Gramaglia said. He called the security guard a “hero.” Four of those killed were store employees and six were customers, law enforcement officials said.
John Flynn, the Erie County district attorney, said there were “certain pieces of evidence” that indicate “racial animosity” on the part of the suspect, but he declined to elaborate.
Buffalo Major Byron Brown said the suspected shooter was not from the city. Brown said it was “a day of great pain for our community.”
Rep. Brian Higgins (DN.Y.) called the event “a terrible tragedy for the city.” He said the shooting was part of a nationwide problem: “When you have assault rifles in the possession of the wrong people, these kinds of things happen.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who is from the Buffalo area, wrote that she was “closely monitoring the shooting.” Hochul planned to arrive in the city shortly, Brown said.
The Tops Friendly Markets store, which is in a lower-income area of Buffalo, is a popular outlet serving many nearby residents. It’s situated near several colleges, including Canisius College and Buffalo State College, as well as a number of churches. The supermarket is about 10 minutes away from the Canalside area of Buffalo, popular among both locals and visitors.
Saturday’s shooting echoes the March 2021 mass shooting in Boulder, Colo., in which 10 people, including a police officer, were killed at a King Soopers grocery store.
Kathy Sautter, a spokeswoman for Tops Friendly Markets, said the company was “shocked and deeply saddened by this senseless act of violence.” She said Tops appreciated the quick response by law enforcement and was providing all available resources to assist in the investigation.
Eyewitnesses described a scene of terror. Grady Lewis was outside the store and said he saw a White man outfitted for war, wearing military-style fatigues and holding a firearm in his hands. He said he could n’t believe what was unfolding before his eyes.
Lewis said the man opened fire, pointing the gun left and right as he indiscriminately shot people. Lewis heard more than two dozen shots as the man went inside the grocery store, he said.
A worker who identified himself as Will G. told the Buffalo News that he had walked into a cooler to stock milk just minutes before the shooting. As gunfire rang out, he joined others who hid in the cooler.
“I just heard shots. Shots and shots and shots,” he told the News. “It sounded like things were falling over.”
I added, “I hid. I just hid. I wasn’t going to leave that room.”
Lewis said that not long after the shooter entered the store, he walked outside and placed the gun under his chin as if he was going to pull the trigger. Surrounded by police, he instead dropped the gun, removed his bulletproof vest and knelt to the ground, Lewis said.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I mean you might get robbed out here, but people don’t really shoot people out here.”
Philip Washington works across the street at Loves Barbershop and came outside when he heard gunshots. He said he saw the shooter surrender to police outside the store, and “it was bodies laying everywhere around him.” Washington said that one of the women killed had saved his cousin’s life from him.
Daniel Love, 24, the owner of the barbershop, said that every day for about a week, the suspected shooter would sit outside Love’s store and “pretend” to use the wireless Internet network.
Braedyn Kephart, 20, an Erie Community College student, said she and her boyfriend, Shayne Hill, also 20, pulled into the Tops parking lot to pick up an Instacart order Saturday afternoon when they saw a young White man in full military garb standing outside the store, pointing an assault rifle at his chin.
“We looked over and saw him standing there with the gun to his chin, and I’m thinking, ‘Why does this kid have a gun?’ Then I heard screaming,” Kephart said. Police told the couple to stay in the car for their safety.
As Kephart and Hill watched from their car, they could see the suspect drop to his knees and surrender to police, who took him into custody. Other eyewitnesses said he was laughing while he was being arrested, she said.
“I’m pretty shaken up. My mind is blown at everything that happened,” she said.
People who know the suspect were shocked to learn that he allegedly committed a mass shooting. Gendron grew up in Conklin, a New York town more than 200 miles away from Buffalo near the city of Binghamton.
Russell McNulty, a neighbor, said he last saw Gendron at his high school graduation party a year ago. They smoked a cigarette outside together and talked about what the young man wanted for his future.
“Oh my God, we were at the graduation party,” McNulty gasped after he learned what happened. “He seemed like a normal guy.”
Jolly reported from Buffalo. Libby March in Buffalo contributed reporting, along with Marisa Iati, Meryl Kornfield, Arelis R. Hernández and Annie Gowen.