An 18-year-old white gunman has opened fire at a supermarket in a Black neighbourhood in the US city of Buffalo, killing ten people in what authorities called an act of “racially motivated violent extremism”.
Three others were wounded in the attack at the Tops Friendly Market on Saturday.
The gunman, who was armed with an assault-style rifle and wearing body armour, was arrested after the shooting spree. Officials said he drove to Buffalo from his home in a New York state county “hours away” to launch the attack, which he broadcast on the internet.
Eleven of the victims were Black and two were white.
Stephen Belongia, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office, told reporters that the shooting is being investigated as “both a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism”.
Joseph Gramaglia, the Buffalo Police Commissioner, said the suspect killed nine customers and a retired police officer working as an armed security guard.
The guard “engaged the suspect, fired multiple shots,” but the gunman shot him, he said.
When confronted by police in a vestibule of the store, the suspect held a gun to his own neck but they talked him into dropping the weapon and surrendering, the police commissioner added.
The suspect was later identified as Payton Gendron, of Conklin, a New York state community about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Buffalo, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press news agency. The officials were not permitted to speak publicly on the matter and did so on the condition of anonymity.
Gendron has now been arraigned on a charge of first degree murder, which carries a sentence of life without parole. He is being held without bail.
Witnesses to the attack described indiscriminate shooting at the scene.
Shonnell Harris, a manager at Tops, told the Buffalo News she thought she heard as many as 70 gunshots and that she fell several times as she ran through the store to a rear exit.
“He looked like he was in the army,” she told the newspaper, describing the camouflage-clad assailant.
Retired firefighter Katherine Crofton, who lives nearby, said she witnessed the start of the bloodshed from her porch.
“I saw him shoot this woman,” Crofton told the paper. “She was just going into the store. And then he shot another woman. She was putting groceries into her car. I got down because I did not know if he was going to shoot me.”
Erie County Sheriff John Garcia described the attack as “pure evil.”
“It was straight up racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community,” he said.
Tops Friendly Markets released a statement saying, “We are shocked and deeply saddened by this senseless act of violence and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
At the White House, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden was receiving regular updates on the shooting and the investigation and had offered prayers with the first lady for the victims and their loved ones.
“The president has been briefed by his Homeland Security advisor on the horrific shooting in Buffalo, New York, this afternoon. He will continue to receive updates throughout the evening and tomorrow as further information develops,” she said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting, according to a spokesperson for the Justice Department
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the US senator from New York, said “We are standing with the people of Buffalo”, while the Governor of New York Kathy Hochul described the killings as a “horrific white supremacist shooting”. She also praised the grocery store security guard as “a true hero”.
Saturday’s shooting comes little more than a year after a March 2021 attack at a King Soopers grocery in Boulder, Colorado, that killed 10 people.
The US suffered 19,350 firearm homicides in 2020, up nearly 35 percent as compared to 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its latest data.
But despite the recurring mass-casualty shootings and a nationwide wave of gun violence, multiple initiatives to reform gun regulations have failed in the US Congress, leaving states and local councils to enact their own restrictions.