A security guard killed while exchanging gunfire with a mass shooter during Saturday’s attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket is being recognized as a selfless hero who gave up his life to save others.
“He went down fighting. He came in, he went towards the gunfire, he went towards the fight,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said of retired Buffalo police officer Aaron Salter Jr. in an interview with ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday.
“He shot the individual but because of his armor plating vest it had no effect on him and unfortunately the suspect returned fire and he succumbed to his injuries. Like I said, he was a beloved member and we’re sure he saved lives yesterday,” said Gramaglia.
A small vigil is seen set up across the street from a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, after a heavily armed 18-year-old white man entered the store in a predominantly Black neighborhood and shot 13 people, killing 10. (Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Salter had served in the police force for 30 years before retiring and taking the security job at the Tops Friendly Market, the Daily Beast reported.
“Today is a shock,” his son, Aaron Salter III, told the news outlet. “I’m pretty sure he saved some lives today. He’s a hero.”
“He’s a true hero,” Gramaglia reiterated in his interview Sunday. “We don’t know what he prevented. There could have been more victims, if not for his actions.”
The 55-year-old was working security when authorities said 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who was armed with an assault rifle and body armor, began randomly firing at people, first in the parking lot and then inside. Thirteen people were shot, 10 of whom were killed. Gendron was arrested after surrendering at the scene, Gramaglia said.
Erie County Sheriff John Garcia suggested Saturday that the attack was a hate crime with the gunman, who is white, targeting people of color. The store was in a predominantly Black community and the shooter traveled several hours to get to the location, which he had been at a day earlier, Gramaglia said.
“It seems that he had come here to scope out the area, to do a little reconnaissance work on the area before he carried out his just evil, sickening act,” he told ABC News.
The 86-year-old mother of Buffalo’s former fire commissioner has been identified as another of the fatalities.
“My mom was the consummate mom,” former Commissioner Garnell Whitfield told The Buffalo News of Ruth Whitfield. “My mother was a mother to the motherless. She was a blessing to all of us.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.