The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Buffalo shooting suspect indicted; grand jury’s work continues

‘Payton, you’re a coward!’ a person in the gallery yelled as the 18-year-old suspect was led back to a holding area

Payton Gendron, 18, made a brief appearance in court on May 19. Gendron stands accused of killing 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo. (Video: Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

BUFFALO — Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old charged in connection with the killing of 10 people at a supermarket here less than a week ago, has been indicted by a grand jury and remains in custody after a brief court appearance Thursday.

Authorities say Gendron, an alleged white supremacist, targeted the Tops supermarket in a largely Black neighborhood because of the hatred he harbored for minorities, fueled by an obsession with false theories about people of color replacing White people that proliferate on the Internet. He has pleaded not guilty.

“Payton, you’re a coward!” a person in the courtroom gallery yelled as Gendron, who is being held without bail, was led back to a holding area, handcuffed and shackled and wearing bright orange jail scrubs.

Later Thursday, local officials briefed reporters on the investigation, saying police and the FBI had finished collecting evidence from the Tops supermarket site and pledging to reopen an improved version of the store as quickly as possible.

“I commit to you we will do it as soon as we possibly can,” Tops president John Persons said.

Just before attack, 15 people signed into alleged shooter's chatroom, according to a person familiar with review

At the court hearing, prosecutor Gary Hackbush told Buffalo City Court Chief Judge Craig D. Hannah that an Erie County grand jury had “voted an indictment against the defendant Payton Gendron.” The charge was not specified.

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn later released a statement saying the grand jury continues to hear evidence and could vote to indict Gendron on additional counts. Gendron is scheduled to return to court June 9.

Police say Gendron traveled three hours from his home in Conklin, N.Y., to target African Americans with his Bushmaster XM-15 rifle. He is believed to have posted a screed online that revealed a paranoid obsession with a racist theory claiming White Americans are intentionally being replaced by non-White immigrants.

The shooting victims included elderly patrons and a retired Buffalo police officer working as a security guard at the store. Authorities say the officer, Aaron Salter Jr., died trying to stop the rampage.

The Justice Department is also investigating the killings as a possible hate crime.

Accused gunman followed a long trail to terror, officials say

On Wednesday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said a 911 dispatcher who allegedly hung up on a Tops employee trapped inside the market during the mass shooting has been placed on leave and is facing possible termination.

The dispatcher, who has not been publicly identified, has been on the job for eight years, according to the county. Latisha Rogers, an assistant office manager at the market, told the Buffalo News and WGRZ that she called 911 and whispered to the dispatcher about the presence of a gunman inside the store.

“She proceeded in a very nasty tone and says, ‘I can’t hear you, why are you whispering? You don’t have to whisper, they can’t hear you,’ ” Rogers told WGRZ. “So I continued to whisper and I said, ‘Ma’am he’s still in the store, he’s still shooting! I’m scared for my life, please send help!’ Out of nervousness, my phone fell out of my hand, she said something I couldn’t make out, and then the phone hung up.”

On May 17, President Biden rebuked white supremacy in remarks remembering the victims of the May 14 Buffalo supermarket shooting. (Video: The Washington Post)

Thursday’s hearing was held in a basement courtroom at Erie County Court, with tight security screening for onlookers. Several relatives of the victims were in attendance.

Family members of victims also appeared hours later on the steps of the Antioch Baptist Church. They were joined by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said his civil rights organization, the National Action Network, will pay for the victims’ funerals, and attorney Ben Crump, who vowed to go after gun manufacturers and distributors as well as those who “curated” Gendron’s hate.

The relatives shared emotional accounts of their losses. Marcus Talley spoke of his mother, Geraldine, who died on a shopping trip with her fiance, a survivor of the massacre. Talley said his mother’s partner “watched her die,” by getting struck “right through her temple” by a bullet.

Twelve-year-old Jaques Patterson, whose father, Heyward Patterson, will be laid to rest Friday, covered his face as his mother spoke of their grief.

The Buffalo victims: What we know

No one answered the door at the Gendron home in Conklin on Wednesday. The driveway was empty except for a portable basketball hoop anchored by sandbags.

On the front porch was a round cement weight that appeared to be a remnant of Gendron’s preschool days. The weight, which was holding down one corner of a mat, had a mold of a tiny right hand and a quarter-size heart etched next to the thumb. “PAYTON” and “2008” were impressed above and below the handprint.

Nearby, at the Conklin Reliable Market, a roadside sign read, “Prayers for the people of Buffalo: United in sorrow.”

Gendron worked at the store from July to September 2021 and was seen by his co-workers as an introvert, said owner John Gage, who said he did not recall his former employee having any altercations with others in the store.

Gage said Gendron gave his two weeks’ notice last year without much discussion, except a mention that he was quitting to go to school. He enrolled at SUNY Broome Community College, where a spokeswoman has said his enrollment officially ended in March.

Gage said the Conklin community is tolerant — stressing that Gendron’s alleged racism does not reflect the feelings of most people in the town.

“I feel 100 percent … for the people who have gone through this,” the 53-year-old business owner said. “Our community and God is watching over them, and hopefully it will comfort them.”

Andrea Salcedo and Tim Bella contributed to this report.