Shooter behind racist attack in US supermarket gets life in prison
A white supremacist who murdered ten Black people during a live-streamed supermarket rampage in New York State last year was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday during an emotional hearing that saw a man lunge for the shooter.
Payton Gendron, 19, had pleaded guilty to a state charge of domestic terrorism motivated by hate over the massacre in Buffalo in May, which carries a mandatory penalty of life without parole.
The convicted teen, who told the court he was “very sorry” for his actions, still faces dozens of federal hate crime charges that could see him receive the death penalty.
“There can be no mercy for you, no understanding, no second chances. The damage you have caused is too great,” Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan told Gendron, handing down the life term.
Gendron, wearing an orange jumpsuit and glasses, had to be escorted out of the courtroom when an audience member rushed at him during emotional statements by the victims’ relatives.
The unidentified man was restrained by security and the hearing resumed several minutes later.
“I understand the emotion and the anger, but we cannot have that in the courtroom,” said Eagan.
Earlier, Simone Crawley, the granddaughter of 86-year-old victim Ruth Whitfield, called Gendron “a cowardly racist.”
Kimberly Salter, the widow of security guard Aaron Salter, said her family was wearing “red’’ for the blood that he shed for his family and for his community, and “black” because they are still grieving.
Gendron planned the attack for months, targeting Tops Friendly Market because of the surrounding neighbourhood’s large African American population.
Prosecutors said on May 14, the then-18-year-old drove from his hometown of Conklin, more than 200 miles (322 kilometres away, with the intention of killing as many Black people as possible.
Wearing heavy body armour and wielding an AR-15 assault rifle, he shot four people in the parking lot, three of them fatally, before entering the grocery store.
Among those killed inside was Salter, a retired police officer working as a security guard. He fired several shots at the assailant before being killed, police said.
Gendron wore a helmet with a video camera attached and live-streamed the two-minute attack on the platform Twitch.
The victims ranged in age from 32 to 86. Eleven of the 13 people shot were Black and two were white.
At one point, Gendron apologised to a white man that he had injured and chose not to kill.
The murderer told the hearing that he had “acted out of hate.” He blamed content he had read online and said he didn’t want “anyone to be inspired by what he did.”
“I did a terrible thing that day. I shot and killed people because they were Black. Looking back now, I can’t believe I actually did it,” he said, as victims’ relatives sobbed.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who is Black, described the killer’s words as “much too little, much too late.”
Police arrested Gendron within hours of the attack and investigators found a 180-page document on his computer laying out his racist motivations for the massacre.
He had made references to the “great replacement,” a far-right conspiracy theory that claims people of colour are being brought into the United States to replace White Americans.
Judge Eagan called white supremacy “an insidious cancer” in American society.
Gendron admitted all charges against him in November, including 10 counts of murder in the first degree, three attempted murder charges and one count of criminal possession of a weapon.
He was the first person in New York to be convicted of the state’s domestic terrorism charge, which was introduced in 2020.