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Police officers secure the scene after a shooting at TOPS supermarket in Buffalo, New York, May 14, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

Buffalo, New York: Ten people were killed during a mass shooting Saturday afternoon at a Buffalo grocery store in what law enforcement officials described as a racially motivated hate crime.

Law enforcement authorities said that Payton Gendron, an 18-year old White man, approached the store located in a predominantly Black neighbourhood and opened fire on shoppers and employees, shooting 13 people including a security guard.

Gendron surrendered to police outside the store. Later Saturday, he was charged with first-degree murder and held without bail. He pleaded not guilty.

Stephen Belongia, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office, said law enforcement officials were investigating the shooting as a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism. Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said 11 of the 13 people shot were Black.

Gramaglia added that the gunman, who was heavily armed and wearing tactical gear, used a camera to live-stream the attack and shot several victims in the parking lot before entering the store.

The grocery’s longtime security guard fired back, but the gunman’s body armor repelled the shot, and the guard was killed in the encounter, Gramaglia said. He called the security guard a “hero.” Four of those killed were store employees and six were customers, law enforcement officials said.

John Flynn, the Erie County district attorney, said there were “certain pieces of evidence” that indicate “racial animosity” on the part of the suspect, but he declined to elaborate.

Gendron grew up in Conklin, a New York town more than 200 miles away from Buffalo near the city of Binghamton. The gunman was not known to law enforcement, Flynn said.

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The suspect Payton Gendron, an 18-year old White man, approached the store located in a predominantly Black neighbourhood and opened fire on shoppers and employees, shooting 13 people including a security guard. Image Credit: AP

Investigators are reviewing a screed that they suspect was posted by the gunman describing his white supremacist motivations and ideology. The 180-page document was uploaded to Google Drive and details the author’s radicalisation on internet forums, as well as a plan to target a predominantly Black neighbourhood.

The author calls himself a White supremacist, fascist and anti-Semite. The document is centered on a far-right conspiracy theory which baselessly posits that the White population in Western countries is being reduced - or “replaced” - by immigrants in a deliberate plot.

The author cites Brenton Tarrant, the gunman who killed 51 people in a New Zealand mosque, as an inspiration for the attack. The author also mentions Dylann Roof, who killed nine worshipers in an attack on a Black church in Charleston in 2015.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the “senseless, horrific shooting” is being investigated “as a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism.”

He said the Justice Department is “committed to conducting a thorough and expeditious investigation into this shooting and to seeking justice for these innocent victims.”

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said it was “a day of great pain for our community.”

Rep. Brian Higgins, Democrat, New York, said the shooting was part of a nationwide problem: “When you have assault rifles in the possession of the wrong people, these kinds of things happen,” he said.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Democrat, who is from the Buffalo area, told reporters that the weapon used in the shooting appeared to have been legally obtained. “I’m angry,” she said. “I’ve seen violence on the Brooklyn subway and now in the streets of Buffalo. It has to stop.”

The Tops Friendly Markets store is located in a lower-income area of Buffalo and opened about seven years ago, residents said. It filled a major gap, becoming the only supermarket within walking distance for many living nearby. On Saturdays, locals said, it hums with customers, including the elderly.

Saturday’s shooting echoes the March 2021 mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, in which 10 people, including a police officer, were killed at a King Soopers grocery store.

Kathy Sautter, a spokeswoman for Tops Friendly Markets, said the company was “shocked and deeply saddened by this senseless act of violence.” She said Tops appreciated the quick response by law enforcement and was providing all available resources to assist in the investigation.

Eyewitnesses described a scene of terror.

Grady Lewis was outside the store and said he saw a White man outfitted for war, wearing military-style fatigues and holding a firearm in his hands. He said he couldn’t believe what was unfolding before his eyes.

Lewis said the man opened fire, pointing the gun left and right as he indiscriminately shot people. Lewis heard more than two dozen shots as the man went inside the grocery store, he said.