Payton Gendron threatened school shooting and was given mental health evaluation before Buffalo attack

State police called to high school in 2021 over incident

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Sunday 15 May 2022 16:53 EDT
Biden calls US to end 'stain' of white supremacist violence

New evidence is adding further context to the white supremacist mass shooting that killed 10 people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday.

Payton Gendron, 18, who has been charged with murder over the attack, had previously threatened to shoot up his high school and was taken into custody for a mental health evaluation, an anonymous law enforcement source told The Associated Press.

In 2021, the then-17-year-old talked about committing a shooting at Susquehanna Valley Central High School in Broome County, New York.

The threats to the school came in comments to fellow students, The Buffalo News reported on Saturday, citing unnamed government sources.

“A school official reported that this very troubled young man had made statements indicating that he wanted to do a shooting, either at a graduation ceremony, or sometime after,” the official said.

This prompted school officials to call New York state troopers, who took Mr Gendron into custody under the state’s mental health law for evaluation.

Buffalo supermarket shooting suspect Payton Gendron appears in a jail booking photograph

He was in treatment for about a day and a half before being released, Buffalo police commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said during a press conference on Sunday, though he did not describe the extent or findings of the treatment.

The school threats are the latest piece of evidence suggesting Mr Gendron was enamoured with violence.

They join a body of evidence suggesting Mr Gendron was radicalised online and driven by white supremacist hatred.

“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake that this is an absolutely racist hate crime,” Mr Gramaglia said during the press conference. “This is someone who has hate in their heart, soul and mind.”

Officials have already executed a search warrant on Mr Gendron’s car, and are in the process of obtaining more to search his home and social media accounts.

So far, police believe he acted alone.

They expect GPS data from social media companies will provide a better timeline of the 18-year-old’s whereabouts in the days leading up to the shooting.

Mr Gendron was not on the radar of the FBI prior to the shooting, officials said, and it’s unclear whether his school-shooting threat impeded his ability to obtain a high-powered rifle.

Police say they are investigating the Buffalo shooting as both a hate crime and an instance of domestic extremism, and that they possess evidence suggesting the 18-year-old was motivated by racial hatred.

The 18-year-old white man targeted the store, hours away from his home in Conklin, New York, because it was in a neighbourhood with a large number of Black people, according to police.

He arrived in the Buffalo area at least a day before the shooting for “reconaissance”, according to police.

An online manifesto, believed but not yet officially confirmed to be written by Mr Gendron, describes racist fears of a “great replacement” of white people and cites as inspiration other mass shooters who targeted people of colour.

“This individual came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he possibly could, so the Buffalo police saved a lot of lives yesterday,” Buffalo mayor Byron Brown said on Sunday. “I want to thank them for that.”

Payton Gendron is being held in jail without bail as he awaits trial on his murder charges, for which he has pleaded not guilty. Federal charges are also expected.

In the meantime, he has been placed on suicide watch, after officers observed him put his gun to his neck as they closed in on Saturday.

“He will receive the correctional health and the mental health that is needed,” Erie County sheriff John Garcia said.

Commissioner Gramaglia praised officers for de-escalating the situation and getting the heavily armed Mr Gendron to surrender without harming himself or any more people.

“Our officers very courageously used every de-escalation tactic that they could. They talked him down. It was a pretty one-sided fight there with the armour that he had,” Mr Gramaglia said. “It was a tremendous act of bravery.”

Officials have not disclosed how and when Mr Gendron purchased his military-style rifle, which was seen in an alleged livestream video of the shooting with a racial slur written on its sights.

New York governor Kathy Hochul said on Sunday the weapon itself was legal in New York, but modified with illegal high-capacity bullet magazines. She called on federal legislators to pass more “no-brainer” gun reforms, invoking the memory of the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy.

“We need a smart national policy,” she said, adding: “Shame on Congress at that time for not passing something as basic as a background check.”

She said she hopes the tragedy is not what defines Buffalo going forward, but how leaders came together to stop gun violence.

“So we will be known perhaps temporarily as the place of the Buffalo shooting,” she said. “But I want our place in history to be the place of the last mass shooting in this country. Working together we will achieve that.”

Other leaders focused on the racism at the core of the shooting, which some commentators have argued mirrored many of the positions of mainstream Republicans and popular conservative TV hosts like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson.

President Joe Biden said on Saturday the incident was a “stain on the soul of America,” committed by someone “armed with weapons of war and a hate-filled soul.”

“We must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America,” he said in remarks before the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service on 14 May. “Our hearts are heavy once again but our resolve must never waver.”

Police have notified the family members of the 10 people who were killed in the Tops grocery store in the shooting, and are expected to publicly release the names of the victims on Sunday.

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