Grady Lewis said he was outside the supermarket when he heard seven or eight gunshots, and described seeing a White man “fully prepared, ready to go,” dressed in tactical gear spraying gunfire at the entry of the store, which is located in the heart of the city’s Black community.
“He came out, he put the gun to his head, to his chin. Then he dropped it and took off his bulletproof vest, then got on his hands and knees and put his hands behind his back,” Lewis said, describing the moments the suspect was arrested by police. “I thought they were going to shoot him but they didn’t shoot him.”
“I still don’t even believe it happened … that a person would go into a supermarket full of people,” he said. “It was horrible, it was really horrible.”
One woman told WKBW she received a distressing phone call from her “scared, hysterical” 19-year-old granddaughter who was at the supermarket and heard gunshots. The woman raced to the scene and found her granddaughter outside the store.
“I can’t even explain it, how grateful I am to God that she’s ok because she could have been one of the other people,” she told WKBW.
Two people remain hospitalized in stable condition, a spokesman for Erie County Medical Center told CNN Saturday night, and a third person wounded was discharged.
Of the 13 victims, 11 were Black and two were White, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said.
The US Department of Justice is investigating the shooting “as a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism,” according to a statement from US Attorney General Merrick Garland. The FBI and ATF are coordinating with local and state law enforcement in their investigations, the statement said.
The shooting was a “straight up racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community,” Erie County Sheriff John C. Garcia said Saturday. “This was pure evil.”
How the shooting unfolded
At around 2:30 p.m., authorities allege the suspect — who hails from the town of Conklin, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Buffalo in Western New York — drove to Tops Friendly Markets near the areas of Masten Park and Kingsley, which are predominantly Black neighborhoods.
Wearing tactical gear and armed with “an assault weapon,” the suspect allegedly shot and killed three people in the parking lot and wounded a fourth, according to a statement from Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn.
The suspect then entered the store and exchanged gunfire with an armed security guard, who was a retired member of the Buffalo Police Department, the statement said.
Because the suspect wore heavy tactical gear, however, the guard’s bullets did not have any effect, Gramaglia said Saturday.
“He was very heavily armed,” the police commissioner said. “He had tactical gear, he had a tactical helmet on, he had a camera that he was livestreaming what he was doing.”
Inside the store, nine people were shot before the suspect was apprehended by police, with the guard and six others dying from their wounds, according to the district attorney’s statement.
In a statement sent to CNN, livestreaming service Twitch confirmed the shooting was streamed and said the user “has been indefinitely suspended from our service, and we are taking all appropriate action, including monitoring for any accounts rebroadcasting this content.”
Authorities investigating shooting as hate crime
Following the shooting, investigators obtained “certain pieces of evidence” that “indicate some racial animosity” from the suspect, Flynn said during a Saturday news conference.
“I’m not going to … elaborate on what exactly they are right now but we have evidence in custody right now that shows that there is some racial component,” Flynn said.
The manifesto, independently obtained by CNN shortly after the attack and before authorities released the suspect’s name, is allegedly written by a person claiming to be Payton Gendron confessing to the attack.
The manifesto’s author says he bought ammo for some time but didn’t get serious about planning the attack until January. The author goes on about his perceptions of the dwindling size of the White population and claims of ethnic and cultural replacement of Whites, and describes himself as a fascist, a White supremacist and an anti-Semite.
Additional charges may be filed alongside the count of first-degree murder, Flynn said, and the suspect faces a maximum of life in prison without parole if convicted.
Nation, community react to shooting
President Joe Biden condemned the shooting in a statement Saturday night and said he is grieving for the families of those lost.
“We still need to learn more about the motivation for today’s shooting as law enforcement does its work, but we don’t need anything else to state a clear moral truth: A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation,” he said. “Hate must have no safe harbor.”
“This is the worst nightmare that any community can face and we are hurting and we are seething right now as a community,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said. “The depth of pain that families are feeling and that all of us are feeling right now cannot even be explained.”
Speaking to the suspected motive of the shooting, Darius G. Pridgen — the president of Buffalo’s city council and the senior pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church — told CNN’s Pamela Brown he hopes it is understood that race relations in the city do not have to be frayed and that the shooting was the act of an “evil” individual from outside the community.
“The same way I don’t want to see Black people painted with a broad brush if we have one Black person (do wrong), they say, ‘Oh, those Black folks.’ So at the end of the day, I don’t want to see the same thing happen in our community with Black and White relations,” Pridgen said.
“This was not a White man from Buffalo. This was a White person who was evil, so I don’t want to see all White people painted and to have a tension between Black and White because of the individual who should serve his time.”
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian, Shimon Prokupecz, Christina Maxouris, Emma Tucker, Sharif Paget, Sabrina Shulman, Jamiel Lynch, Brian Stelter, Phil Gast, Gregory Clary, Samantha Beech and Haley Burton contributed to this report.