Buffalo, NY – An unidentified retired federal agent and at least five other individuals are under investigation for potentially having advance notice about a white supremacist’s plan to carry out a mass shooting at Tops Supermarket earlier this month, according to two law enforcement sources.
The sources said the retired federal agent is believed to be a Texas resident, but they refused to confirm which agency he used to work for and would not release his name, The Buffalo News reported.
The former agent is allegedly one of at least six people the gunman communicated with on a regular basis in an online chat room, they said.
The two law enforcement sources, both of whom allegedly have direct knowledge of the case, said the gunman invited the group of people to his chatroom so they could read about his plan to carry out a mass shooting, according to The Buffalo News.
The chatroom was allegedly filled with racist comments.
The sources said that approximately 30 minutes before the May 14 mass shooting at Tops Supermarket, the shooter told the group where the attack would take place, The Buffalo News reported.
The Washington Post previously reported that as many as 15 people accepted invitations to the Discord chatroom after the gunman sent them out.
The shooter livestreamed the attack using the platform, according to The Washington Post.
The chatroom has since been taken down by Discord.
“These were like-minded people who used this chat group to talk about their shared interests in racial hatred, replacement theory and hatred of anyone who is Jewish, a person of color or not of European ancestry,” one of the sources told The Buffalo News. “What is especially upsetting is that these six people received advanced notice of the Buffalo shooting, about 30 minutes before it happened.”
They noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) discovered that none of the individuals involved in the chat notified law enforcement about the pending massacre.
The sources said the FBI is now working to track down and interview those involved in the chat room, the sources told The Buffalo News.
They are also interested in identifying an individual the gunman referred to in his online social media diary as “Saint Sandman” and “Sandman,” according to the news outlet.
The shooter allegedly wrote that Sandman taught him about different AR-15 manufacturers and which ones were the best.
Investigators said the gunman used a Bushmaster X-15 to carry out the shooting.
He also allegedly posted a 180-page “white supremacist manifesto” online prior to traveling approximately 200 miles from Conklin to carry out the livestreamed attack, according to CNN.
The manifesto contained white supremacist ideology, including anti-black and anti-Semitic statements.
In the manifesto, the killer stated he chose his location due to its high population of black people and the strict gun control laws which would limit who could fight back against him.
Commissioner Gramaglia said police believe the shooter acted alone and that he conducted reconnaissance at the store the day prior to the massacre, CNN reported.
The FBI office in Buffalo refused to comment on the status of the probe, The Buffalo News reported.
A Discord spokesperson said the company is working with law enforcement and that “hate has no place” on the platform, The Washington Post reported.
“We are committed to combating violence and extremism,” the spokesperson added.
Ten people, including a retired Buffalo police officer working as a security guard, were killed in the massacre.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said the 18-year-old gunman primarily targeted black victims and described the mass shooting as a hate crime, CNN reported.
“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake that this is an absolute racist hate crime. It will be prosecuted as a hate crime,” Commissioner Gramaglia said. “This is someone who has hate in their heart, soul and mind.”
The deadly attack occurred at Tops Supermarket on Jefferson Avenue at approximately 2:30 p.m. on May 14, CNN reported.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said the suspect, who was wearing tactical gear, used an “assault weapon” to murder three people out in the store’s parking lot.
A fourth victim was wounded.
The gunman then went into the bustling store and opened fire on the business’s armed security guard, 55-year-old retired Buffalo Police Officer Aaron Salter.
The retired officer shot the gunman multiple times, but the suspect’s armor-plated protective gear stopped the rounds, WIVB reported.
Salter was ultimately killed in the shootout, according to police.
“He was very heavily armed,” Commissioner Gramaglia said of the gunman, according to CNN. “He had tactical gear, he had a tactical helmet on, he had a camera that he was livestreaming what he was doing.”
After killing the retired police officer, the suspect shot nine more people inside the grocery store, according to investigators.
Eleven of the victims were black and two were white, WGRZ reported.
Four of those who were shot were employees at the store.
The gunman ultimately surrendered to police outside the business.
“He came out, he put the gun to his head, to his chin,” witness Grady Lewis recounted, according to CNN. “Then he dropped it and took off his bulletproof vest, then got on his hands and knees and put his hands behind his back.”
“I thought they were going to shoot him but they didn’t shoot him,” Lewis told reporters. “I still don’t even believe it happened … that a person would go into a supermarket full of people. It was horrible, it was really horrible.”
The nine other victims killed in the mass shooting were identified as 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield, 77-year-old Pearly Young, 72-year-old Katherine Massey, 67-year-old Deacon Heyward Patterson, 65-year-old Celestine Chaney, 32-year-old Roberta Drury, 52-year-old Margus Morrison, 53-year-old Andre Mackneil, and 62-year-old Geraldine Talley, WGRZ reported.
Ruth Whitfield was the mother of Buffalo’s former fire commissioner, Garnell Whitfield, according to WIVB.
Commissioner Gramaglia praised retired Officer Salter for heroically confronting the armed assailant, calling him “a hero in our eyes,” according to WIVB.
“I had the pleasure of knowing him,” Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans said of the slain officer. “Great guy, well respected, well-liked. This is just horrific. It’s tragic. I don’t know what other words to describe it.”