(BUFFALO, N.Y.) — Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old who allegedly gunned down 10 people — all of whom were Black — at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, would have continued his rampage had he not been stopped, Buffalo Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told ABC News.
“We have uncovered information that if he escaped the [Tops] supermarket, he had plans to continue his attack,” Gramaglia said. “He had plans to continue driving down Jefferson Ave. to shoot more Black people … possibly go to another store [or] location.”
Authorities are calling Saturday’s massacre a “racially motivated hate crime.”
“This was well-planned … by a sick person,” Gramaglia said.
Evidence points to Gendron self-radicalizing when the pandemic began, spending inordinate amounts of time engrossing himself on hate posts on social media, according to a senior law enforcement source briefed on the case.
Law enforcement assessed that in May 2020, the teen watched a 17-minute video of the gunman who attacked two mosques in New Zealand in 2019, killing 51 people.
In recent months and weeks, some of the items Gendron posted on social media became increasingly violent in tone, a senior law enforcement source said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray called the shooting a “hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism” on a Monday call with state and local partners, according to a source familiar with the phone call.
“The FBI is committed to thoroughly and aggressively investigating Saturday’s attack,” Wray said, according to a source familiar with the call. “Racially motivated violence will not be tolerated in this country.”
Gendron underwent a mental health evaluation after he expressed a desire last June to carry out a murder-suicide. But he was still able to legally buy the semiautomatic rifle police said was used in the attack because no criminal charges resulted from his encounter with New York State Police.
Gramaglia told ABC News the nature of Gendron’s threat last June was “generalized” and included nothing specific.
Officers responded to the shooting scene within one minute and when they approached the suspect, the teen put his assault rifle to his neck, according to the commissioner.
The commissioner praised the responding officers who he said deescalated the situation and convinced the gunman to drop his weapon, saving countless lives.
Multiple high-capacity magazines were recovered on Gendron and in his car, the commissioner said. While he declined to say what evidence pointed to additional shooting plans, the commissioner said investigators have been going through his phone and other electronics.
The teen is from Conklin, New York, which is 200 miles east of Buffalo.
Police determined Gendron arrived in Buffalo on Friday via license plate reader and other evidence, the commissioner said. Police are still working to determine where he stayed overnight before Saturday’s attack.
Shonnell Harris Teague, an operations manager at Tops, said she saw Gendron sitting on a bench outside of the store on Friday afternoon. She said he was there for several hours with a camper bag on his back, dressed in the same camouflage outfit he wore Saturday.
She said Gendron entered the store Friday evening, and appeared as if he was bothering customers. Teague asked him to leave and he did so without an argument.
The next time Teague saw him was on Saturday as a mass shooting unfolded at her store. She escaped out of the back when she saw Gendron.
“I see him with his gear on and his gun and how it was all strapped on. … I seen all the other bodies on the ground. … It was just a nightmare,” she said.
Gendron has been arraigned on one count of first-degree murder and is due back in court on May 19.
Meanwhile, a Buffalo man, Joseph Chowaniec, has been charged with making terroristic threats after he allegedly referenced the supermarket shooting during threatening phone calls to a pizzeria and a brewery on Sunday, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office said.
“This crime will not be tolerated — especially as we are actively investigating the Jefferson Avenue shooting as a domestic terrorism incident,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said in a statement.
Chowaniec, 52, was arraigned on Monday and is set to return to court on May 20.
ABC News’ Pierre Thomas, Luke Barr and Miles Cohen contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.