Buffalo massacre suspect arraigned on murder and hate crime charges
By Jesse McKinley and Lauren D’Avolio
The man accused of carrying out a racist massacre that killed 10 Black residents at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, was arraigned in an Erie County courtroom Thursday on more than two dozen charges, including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate — believed to be the first time that such a law has been leveled against a defendant in New York.
The suspect, Payton Gendron, 18, briefly appeared in court Thursday, amid a heavy police presence and with some family members of victims sitting in the gallery. Thirteen people were shot May 14 at the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo’s East Side; three survived.
Gendron, an avowed white supremacist, had been indicted Wednesday by a grand jury on 25 counts, including 10 counts of first-degree murder and 10 counts of second-degree murder charges as hate crimes. He was also indicted on one count of a charge known as domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree — because of allegations in the indictment that Gendron acted “because of the perceived race and/or color of such person or persons” injured and killed in the attack.
That charge became part of state law in November 2020, prompted by a series of anti-Jewish incidents, including a knife attack at the home of a Hasidic rabbi in Monsey, New York, in late 2019. According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, to which law enforcement agencies report arrests requiring fingerprints, the law had not previously been used in any arrest or arraignment. It carries a penalty of life in prison without parole.
Gendron pleaded not guilty to the charges, which also include three counts of attempted murder as a hate crime and a single count of criminal possession of a weapon. He could also face additional federal charges, officials have said. He remains held without bail and is due back in court July 7.
After the arraignment, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said he had decided to pursue a raft of charges because of the seriousness of the attack and in memory of those killed.
“I chose to charge 10 separate counts to list, by name, the 10 victims, because they deserve to be listed by name,” Flynn said. “And he needs to be held accountable for all 10.”
Flynn, a Democrat, declined to comment on reports that authorities had been looking into whether other people knew in advance about Gendron’s plans. The Buffalo News reported last week, citing anonymous sources, that a former federal agent had communicated with Gendron in an online chat room where racist ideas were common. The report did not specify what office or agency the agent had worked for.
Flynn did say, however, that “at this time, there does not appear to be anyone else who was criminally liable.”
“Could that change?” he said. “Absolutely.”
Authorities said Gendron traveled more than 200 miles from his home in Conklin, New York, in the state’s Southern Tier, to commit his attack after carefully choosing the East Side neighborhood because of its large number of Black residents.
In the months before the shooting, Gendron had posted an extensive series of racist comments online, including plans for an attack in Buffalo, photos of tactical gear and the assault-style weapon that officials say he used to carry out the shooting, and other musings on the messaging site Discord.
Just before the attack, Gendron shared those writings with a small group of people; Gendron also briefly livestreamed the attack on Twitch, an Amazon-owned site popular with video-gamers.
“There’s a lot of evidence here,” said Flynn.
He added that he would fight any effort by the defense to move the trial out of Erie County. “This happened in our community,” he said.
Gendron surrendered to police after the shooting, and days later, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a pair of executive orders directing the State Police to establish a new unit to monitor “violent extremism through social media,” such as the channels Gendron is believed to have used.
Hochul has also backed a series of new measures to tighten the state’s already stringent gun laws, including raising the age for ownership of semi-automatic rifles, like the one Gendron is believed to have used, to 21. Those bills are expected to be passed in Albany on Thursday by the state Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats.
Gendron, who is white, had posted a lengthy screed in the days before the attack, expressing adherence to a white supremacist ideology known as replacement theory, which posits a conspiracy to “replace” white Americans with immigrants or people of color.
That theory — once a little-known kernel of paranoia peddled by alt-right fringe groups — has found a larger audience in recent years as it has been refashioned and amplified by some conservative commentators and politicians.
Gendron, whose writings sometimes took the form of question-and-answer sessions between himself and imagined readers, also expressed admiration for other racist gunmen, all of whom were also white.
In remarks made in front of the courthouse Thursday, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown called Gendron a “racist, hate-filled outsider,” and promised that “the wheels of justice are turning very swiftly.”
Brown, a Democrat in his fifth term, said his city would “never forget what happened last month” and spoke out about the proliferation of weapons in today’s society.
“The access to guns is too easy in this country,” he said, adding that he and fellow mayors across the nation planned to push lawmakers for stronger laws. “We will not be silent on this issue.”