Exclusive: Buffalo suspect was inspired by New Zealand shooting, officials say

·Investigative Correspondent
·5 min read

An 18-year-old white shooter who on Saturday allegedly killed 10 people at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store in an attack that targeted Black residents was inspired by the mass shooting carried out in New Zealand three years ago, the country’s top law enforcement officials said on a call with police across the country Monday afternoon.

Payton Gendron, of Conklin, N.Y., is facing a first-degree murder charge. He’s accused of shooting a total of 13 people — four outside Tops Friendly Markets and nine inside the store, authorities said. All 10 of the people killed were Black.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told law enforcement that the bureau was conducting its own separate investigation to see if any federal laws were violated. The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism.

Law enforcement is still working to authenticate a widely reported manifesto linked to Gendron, but said evidence collected at the scene and elsewhere match up to what was written in the document.

Gendron allegedly livestreamed the attack from the moment he pulled his car into the grocery store parking lot. The streaming stopped only because of a recording malfunction, authorities said on the call.

A Buffalo police officer stands at the scene of a shooting at a Tops supermarket.
A Buffalo, N.Y., police officer at the scene of Saturday's shooting. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

"The GoPro was active and going when [the shooter] pulled up to the scene ... without hesitation and began his assault," said Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia, detailing how the attack was carried out.

After shooting people in the parking lot, “he continued inside the store” and shot other individuals, the commissioner said. This is when he encountered a retired police officer who was killed in the attack, Gramaglia said.

Police arrived on the scene shortly after the attack began and “fired numerous rounds at the suspect,” he said. “The suspect had heavy ballistic armor plates and a ballistic helmet that allowed him to walk right through gunfire. He walked his way towards [the] front of [the] vestibule, then the individual put his gun under his chin,” Gramaglia said, and officers were able to persuade him to put down his weapon.

The shooter had three firearms, including multiple high-capacity magazines that he reloaded at least once during the shooting, according to Gramaglia. He also had a hunting rifle in his car, the commissioner said.

Before the shooting, the suspect allegedly did a reconnaissance of the targets and location. On May 13 he was in Binghamton, N.Y., authorities said. Later that morning he was in Buffalo, a mile away from where the shooting occurred.

“This is a racial hate crime; there’s no mistaking motive,” Gramaglia said.

A person pays his respects outside the scene of the Tops market shooting in Buffalo.
A person pays his respects outside the scene of the Tops market shooting in Buffalo. (Matt Rourke/AP)

After the shooting, “law enforcement became aware of a manifesto attributable to the alleged killer,” said Stephen Belongia, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office.

The investigation to “confirm with certainty that this document belongs to, or was created by, the alleged killer is ongoing,” Belongia said. “However, it is noted that the manifesto included specific details of this event.”

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia spoke about the manifesto and the alleged shooter’s path to radicalization. It began in May 2020 when the suspect was browsing the internet and came across a short clip of a man entering a building, Garcia said. He then found a 17-minute-long video of the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter’s livestream of his attack on two mosques, Garcia said. That massacre, on March 15, 2019, left 51 people dead.

The suspect found the shooter’s manifesto, “and the alleged killer read the manifesto and mostly agreed with it,” Garcia said.

The document believed to have been written by the alleged Buffalo shooter "substantially mirrored the New Zealand manifesto," Garcia said on the call.

"Both discuss immigration and population and issues at length for replacing the white race in population growth,” Garcia said, referring to the “great replacement” theory, a racist idea based on the notion that white people are being displaced by minorities.

Ashley Padilla of Buffalo lights candles at a makeshift memorial as people gather at the scene of the Tops market massacre.
Ashley Padilla of Buffalo lights candles at a makeshift memorial as people gather at the scene of the massacre. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“Every day the white population becomes fewer in number,” the manifesto linked to Gendron states. “This is cultural replacement, this is racial replacement,” Garcia said, reading from the document.

“Why buffalo? Buffalo was chosen because it has the highest black population percentage and isn’t that far away,” Garcia said the suspect wrote.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the alleged shooter referenced the “great replacement” theory numerous times, which she described as “hate-fueled.”

“Those who push this racist tripe deliberately fan the flames of hate in this country,” she said.

Law enforcement officials believe the shooter was not a member of any particular group and acted alone, according to speakers on the call.

Officials also noted an earlier incident involving Gendron. In June 2021, police in Binghamton received a call about the suspect’s response to a question about post-graduation plans. The then 17-year-old allegedly said he would carry out a murder-suicide. He did not provide a specific target or location and only discussed this plan generally, authorities said.

He was put on a mental health hold and interviewed by law enforcement at the time. Later that summer, he posted similar threats on the social media platform Discord, and wrote posts taunting law enforcement on the same platform in 2022, officials said on the call.

As the investigation into the Buffalo shooting continues, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas pledged the full resources of the agency and said there will be increased community prevention programs and funds for nonprofits.

“When one community is targeted, we are all targeted,” Mayorkas said.