Carolyn Thompson and Michael Balsam
BUFFALA, New York (AP) – A white gunman accused of massacring 10 black people in racist riots at a Buffalo supermarket was planning to continue killing if he fled the scene, police commissioner said Monday because there is a possibility of federal crime on the grounds of hatred or accusations of internal terror.
A gunman who crossed the state to target people at the Tops Friendly Market also spoke of the shooting of another store, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramalia told CNN.
“He was going to get in his car and keep driving down Jefferson Avenue and keep doing the same thing,” the commissioner said.
The commissioner’s account was similar to part of a racist 180-page document allegedly written by Peyton Hendron, which claimed that the attack was aimed at terrorizing all non-white, non-Christian people and forcing them to leave the country. Federal authorities have been working to verify the authenticity of the document.
The 18-year-old Hendron drove about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from his home in Canclin, New York, to carry out the attack, police said. Authorities said he owned an AR-15-style rifle, wore a body armor and used a helmet camera to broadcast the bloodbath online.
Last weekend he was charged with murder and pleaded not guilty. The federal prosecutor’s office said it was considering a hate crime charge.
Former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr., who lost his 86-year-old mother Ruth Whitfield in a shooting, asked how the country could allow a history of racist killings to be repeated.
“It simply came to our notice then. We are angry. We are crazy. This should not have happened. We do everything to be good citizens, to be good people. We believe in God. We trust Him. We treat people well, and we even love our enemies, ”Whitfield told a news conference with civil rights lawyer Ben Trump and others.
“And you expect us to do it again and again and again – again, forgive and forget,” he continued. “While the people we elect and trust in offices across the country are doing their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal.”
Whitfield’s mother was killed after her husband’s daily visit to a nursing home.
“How do you tell him she’s gone? And especially since she disappeared from the hands of a supporter of white supremacy? From a terrorist? An evil man who is allowed to live among us? ” Said Whitfield.
Among the victims was also a man who was buying a cake for his grandson; a church deacon who helps people get home with groceries; and a supermarket security guard.
The Buffalo bloodshed was the deadliest in a wave of shootings over the weekend, including at a California church and flea market in Texas.
Reports were left by Hendron’s lawyer on Monday. No one opened his family’s house in the morning, relatives did not respond to the message.
Law enforcement officials said Sunday that New York State Police were called to Hendron High School last June to report that the then 17-year-old had made threatening statements. The threat was “general” in nature and unrelated to race, Gramaglia said.
He said Hendron was no longer in contact with law enforcement after a mental health examination that placed him in hospital for a day and a half.
It was unclear whether officials could refer to New York’s “red flag” regulations, which allow law enforcement, school officials and families to sue for weapons confiscated from people considered dangerous. Authorities did not say when Hendron acquired the weapons he had at the time of the deadly attack.
Federal law prohibits people from owning a weapon if a judge finds that they have a “mental defect” or have been forced to stay in a psychiatric facility. An assessment alone will not lead to a ban.
A long list of mass shootings in the U.S. with missed intervention opportunities includes the 2018 massacre of 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where law enforcement officials received numerous complaints of threatening gunman statements and the killing of more than two dozen people at the church Texas in 2017 is 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 scheduled a visit to Buffalo on Tuesday, honored the memory of one of the victims, security guard and retired police officer Aaron Salter. Salter shot the attacker several times, hitting him at least once with his armored vest before he was killed. Biden said Salter “gave his life trying to save others.”
Authorities said that in addition to the 10 blacks killed, three people were injured: one black, two white.
Hendron researched the area’s demographics and conducted reconnaissance before the attack, investigators said. Mayor Byron Brown said the gunman “came here with the clear aim of taking as many black lives as he could.”
The gunman hosted a live broadcast of the attack on Twitch, prompting a test of how quickly social platforms respond to videos of violence.
Portions of videos circulating on the Internet show how an armed man killed several shoppers in less than a minute. At one point, he acts with his weapon on a white man who staggers behind a slant, but says, “I’m sorry!” and does not shoot. The screenshots, presumably from the broadcast, apparently show a racial insult against black people smeared on his rifle.
Hendron surrendered to police who encountered him in the lobby of the supermarket.
This story has been corrected to show that Whitfield, not his father, is a former commissioner for firefighters in Buffalo.
Associated Press reporters Robert Bamstead in Buffalo; Michael Hill in Canclin; Dave Collins in Hartford, Connecticut; and Karen Matthews, Aaron Morrison and Jennifer Peltz of New York contributed to this report. Balsam reported from Washington.