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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Accused gunman who killed 10 at Buffalo grocery store planned to continue attack

Volunteers distribute food at Buffalo Community Fridge in Buffalo, N.Y. on Monday, May 16, 2022. According to the supermarket chain in a statement posted on social media, Tops supermarket would “remain closed until further notice,” after 10 people were killed by a white gunman in a racist massacre on Saturday.

By Jesse McKinley

The accused gunman in the mass shooting in Buffalo had planned a prolonged massacre after attacking a Tops supermarket Saturday, according to the Buffalo police commissioner, who said that the attacker wanted “to continue his rampage.”

The commissioner, Joseph A. Gramaglia, told CNN on Monday morning that the suspect had spoken “about possibly going to another store,” after Tops, potentially turning his fire on “another large superstore.”

“He was going to get in his car and continue to drive down Jefferson Avenue and continue doing the same thing,” Gramaglia said.

Investigators are continuing to analyze the activities of the suspect, Payton S. Gendron, 18, who they said traveled halfway across New York, from his home in a small town near Binghamton, to shoot and kill Black people in east Buffalo.

Indeed, he had picked the Tops store, police said, in an area known for its large Black population, going so far as to visit the neighborhood the day before the attack in what they described as a reconnaissance mission.

Before his attack, the suspect is believed to have posted a lengthy, racist screed online, expressing admiration for other mass-shooting gunmen and a white supremacist ideology known as replacement theory, which imagines a nefarious scheme to “replace” white Americans — and voters — with immigrants or people of color.

The theory, once confined to conspiracy theory websites and publications, has found a larger audience in recent years as prominent conservative commentators and lawmakers have helped spread it.

Ten people were killed in the Buffalo attack, including several older shoppers and a supermarket security guard. The guard exchanged fire with the suspect, who was protected by body armor and fired a semi-automatic rifle.

He surrendered to the police and was charged with first-degree murder, to which he pleaded not guilty.

Residents and family members of the victims expressed grief and outrage Monday, and called for change.

Garnell Whitfield, a former Buffalo fire commissioner whose mother, Ruth Whitfield, was killed in the attack, said the thought that she was killed by “a hatemonger, an evil person,” was more than he and his family could bear.

“We’re tired of losing our loved ones to senseless violence,” he said.

Buffalo’s mayor, Byron Brown, called for gun control measures and improved mental health treatment. He also said he wanted to see hate speech on social media “reined in” after the attack, citing the alleged shooter’s online manifesto.

“The availability of guns in this country needs to change,” he said. “People spreading hate through the internet and indoctrinating people in the ways of hate needs to change. The lack of services for people with mental health issues needs to change.”

On Sunday, police revealed that the suspect had been taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation in June after making a threat at his high school.

He described the remark — about wanting to commit a murder-suicide — as a joke, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the case. He was released, Gramaglia said.

FBI officials, who have been combing the supermarket for evidence since the shooting, confirmed that the suspect’s remark had not caused undue alarm, saying he was “not on the radar” of federal law enforcement.

The shooting in Buffalo — New York’s second-most-populous city — has shaken and outraged many, including Black residents who say they have endured discrimination and segregation there.

“Time and time again, they’ve shown nobody cares about us here,” said Marlene Brown, 58, who is Black and lives not far from the Tops supermarket. “It’s a pattern.”

On Monday, Joseph S. Chowaniec, a 52-year-old Buffalo man, was charged by the Erie County district attorney with making threatening calls to two local businesses Sunday in which he referenced the shooting at Tops.

One of the businesses, a pizzeria, closed for the day after receiving the call, the district attorney’s office said. The other call was placed to a brewery in downtown Buffalo. Although it was not clear what Chowaniec said, he could face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

“This defendant is accused of making threatening phone calls to businesses and referencing this horrific shooting as the entire city of Buffalo is grieving this tragedy,” the district attorney, John Flynn, said in a statement. “This crime will not be tolerated — especially as we are actively investigating the Jefferson Avenue shooting as a domestic terrorism incident.”

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