Buffalo, NY – A retired Buffalo police officer and at nine other people were murdered after a gunman opened fire inside an East Side grocery store on Saturday.
Three more victims were injured, WGRZ reported.
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 on Sunday. “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 have been 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.
Zaire Goodman, 20, has been identified as one of the three victims who were wounded in the attack.
Goodman, who is the son of one of State Senator Time Kennedy’s staffers, remained hospitalized on Sunday with a gunshot wound to the neck, WGRZ reported.
Two other wounded victims, ages 50 and 55, were treated at the hospital and have since been released.
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.”
New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Sunday that she has directed $2.8 million in federal and state funding be made available to help the families who have been affected by the mass shooting.
“The past 24 hours have been traumatizing for New Yorkers, and my administration will spare no effort to ensure the victims of this act of terrorism by a white supremacist are receiving all the resources and support they need,” Hochul said in a statement.
“The entire world is watching how we will come together as New Yorkers to overcome this unthinkable tragedy,” the governor added. “Buffalo, my hometown, is the City of Good Neighbors and New York State will be good neighbors for them.”
The suspect appeared in Buffalo City Court on Saturday night and pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges, CNN reported.
Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said he is currently under suicide watch at the jail.
Investigators said the suspect made many disturbing statements about his hatred for the black community after his arrest, CNN reported.
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 the news outlet.
“We are obviously going through that with a fine-toothed comb and reviewing that for all evidence that may lead us to besides the manifesto itself,” Flynn told 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 it’s 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.
“We continue to investigate this case as a hate crime, a federal hate crime and as a crime perpetrated by a racially motivated, violent extremist,” FBI Buffalo Field Office Special Agent In Charge Stephen Belongia said.
Tops Markets, which owns the store where the attack occurred, said it will provide free transportation to local residence to ensure they are still able to access groceries and medications.
“While the Tops location at Jefferson Avenue will remain closed until further notice, we are steadfast in our commitment to serving every corner of our community as we have for the past 60 years,” the company said in a statement. “Knowing the importance of this location and serving families on the east side of the city, we have taken immediate steps to ensure our neighbors are able to meet their grocery and pharmacy needs by providing free bus shuttle service starting today.”