BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The teenager charged in last month’s racially motivated shooting rampage at Tops on Jefferson Avenue thought his parents came close to catching on to his plan in March. He also revealed how one of the grocery’s security guards confronted him during a scope-out of the store in March, according to screeds that are believed to have been left by him on the instant messaging platform Discord.
News 4 Investigates obtained and reviewed more than 600 pages of postings on the website Discord by someone with the same username that the suspect had on other platforms. The postings include selfies of the suspect posing in military gear, pictures of the weapons and gear he bought, dozens of racist memes, and sketches of the interior of the Tops grocery where he killed 10 people and wounded three others.
A Discord spokeswoman said the postings went live “minutes before the attack.” They show how the teenager had been planning a racially motivated attack for months under the radar of authorities.
The postings also provide insight into his mindset in the months preceding the attack, including what seemed like an idolization of the white man who shot and killed 51 people and wounded 49 more at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The 18-year-old suspect wrote often about the great replacement theory, a white-nationalist far-right conspiracy that whites are being replaced by non-whites, and he mentioned how he originally considered places in Syracuse and Rochester to launch his attack, before picking a predominately Black neighborhood east of downtown Buffalo.
The teenager leveled criticism at the healthcare system and poked fun at New York’s gun laws for failing to stop him from buying guns, including the AR-15 assault rifle used in the attack, which resulted in swift action by the governor.
Discord said that the teenager charged with Saturday’s massacre, whom News 4 is not naming, had posted the entries in a private, invite-only server that no one had access to until he invited a small group inside the day of his attack. Discord declined to provide specifics on the number of people who had access to his postings prior to the attack and if anyone responded to his request for critique of his plan and choice of weaponry.
“We are continuing to do everything we can to assist law enforcement and the investigation remains ongoing. What we know at this time is that a private, invite-only server was created by the suspect to serve as a personal diary chat log,” Discord said in a statement. “Approximately 30 minutes prior to the attack, however, a small group of people were invited to and joined the server. Before that, our records indicate no other people saw the diary chat log in this private server.”
The state Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation into the social media companies that are connected to Saturday’s attack.
“The fact that an individual can post detailed plans to commit such an act of hate without consequence, and then stream it for the world to see is bone-chilling and unfathomable,” said Attorney General Letitia James.
The suspect, who News 4 is choosing not to name, was indicted this week on 25 counts, including one count of domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree, the only time this charge has been filed in the state. The charge carries a sentence of life without parole.
In addition, the suspect faces 10 counts of murder in the first degree and second degree as a hate crime and three counts of attempted murder in the second degree as a hate crime.
“There’s a lot of evidence here,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said Thursday. “There’s a lot of material here.”
Syracuse & Rochester early targets
In December 2021, the teenager mentioned Syracuse as a potential target for his massacre, before he set his eyes on Rochester.
On Dec. 23, 2021, the teenager mentioned that he planned to visit Rochester to scope out targets.
He wrote down neighborhoods such as Dutchtown, Arnett, 19th Ward and Genesee-Jefferson.
This is also when he first mentioned a supermarket as a place to conduct the rampage, specifically Wegmans.
The teenager said that after he completed his attack in Rochester, he planned to barricade himself inside a building, with possible hostages, and that he might have attempted to shoot only Black police officers who would have confronted him.
He also mentioned that he would make a fake phone call to 911 to steer police in the wrong direction to give him more time to complete his attack. It is unclear if he ever did such a thing in Buffalo before he attacked the Tops grocery.
By February, the teenager began to focus on Buffalo for his massacre.
Buffalo becomes target
The teenager had plans to launch his attack in Buffalo on March 15, which is the same month and day of the terrorist attack of two mosques in New Zealand in 2019 that was also persuaded by far-right extremism. The teenager seemed to idolize the killer in the mosques shooting, posting about him by name at least 28 times, including, “I stole lots of info from [New Zealand white supremacist] because I can’t say it any better.”
He picked the Masten District of Buffalo because he said it has the highest Black population of any neighborhood in the area.
“The individual was here a few months ago back in early March,” confirmed Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.
On March 8, the teenager drove the 3.5 hours to Buffalo, to scope out locations for his attack, including the Tops grocery on Jefferson Avenue.
It was then, at 10:17 a.m., when he got pulled over and ticketed for speeding 64 mph in a 40 mph zone on State Route 36, he wrote. The Washington Post reported that it obtained the ticket that matched this description, and it was issued by a State Police trooper.
By 11:30 a.m., he was in Buffalo, and took various pictures of buildings, streets and sections of the Tops parking lot.
By Noon, he was inside the Tops grocery, conducting head counts of Black and white shoppers. That’s when he noted that the grocery had two security guards, one of them being retired Buffalo Police Officer Aaron Salter Jr.
Police said the gunman killed Salter after they exchanged gunfire in the store during Saturday’s attack.
The author of the postings also expressed concerns a few times that he feared his plan was close to being thwarted, including once by a security guard at Tops.
‘In hindsight that was a close call’
The suspect mentioned that he entered the Tops grocery several times. He drew two maps with a blue pen of the interior of the store and wrote notes on a New York State Public Employees Federation union notepad, the union of which both of his parents, Paul and Pamela Gendron, are members. Both parents are civil engineers for the state Department of Transportation, the union confirmed.
His parents could not be reached for comment, and they have not publicly addressed their son’s arrest.
On Wednesday, the union released a statement that it is “devastated” to learn about the attack in Buffalo.
“We were also shocked to learn that the shooter is the son of two PEF Members,” said Wayne Spence, the PEF president. “PEF has been and will always be committed to fighting against hate and for equality and justice for all.”
The teenager’s choice to enter and exit Tops several times that day caught the attention of one of the security guards, although it’s not clear if it was Salter.
The teenager wrote that a Black armed security guard confronted him in the grocery: “I’ve seen you go in and out … What are you doing?”
“And I said I was collecting consensus data (sic), he said if I talked to a manager about it and I said no, and then he said I have to talk to him first,” the teenager wrote. “I asked for his name and he told me and I instantly forgot, then I said bye and thanks and walked back to my car. In hindsight that was a close call.”
Another close call the teenager mentioned was on March 29, when he said his parents had a meeting with him.
Throughout the discord postings, the teenager mentioned how he hid the stockpile of ammunition and guns from his parents, and he claimed they never knew that he was trading silver for money he used to buy it all.
The teenager mentioned in his Discord entries how he was stopped for speeding at least three times in the months before the attack, and the ticket he got on his way to Buffalo was discovered by his parents.
“I’m compromised guys!” he wrote on March 26. “… now my dad knows I was hours away doing something I shouldn’t have.”
In addition, the teenager mentioned that his parents had a “meeting” with him on March 29, when he said he lied to them about going to college classes that he had been skipping for weeks.
“It’s gonna make me quite upset when they realize the truth about what I’ve actually been doing the last few months,” he wrote on March 29.
The teenager also wrote several times that he suspected federal authorities had become aware of his plot “because of the magazine springs I ordered.”
Poked fun at NY gun laws, healthcare system
On Feb. 12, the teenager quoted from what appears to be a state press release about the SAFE Act, which passed in 2013, that mentions how the law “prevents criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from buying guns, cracks down on illegal guns and bans only the most dangerous assault weapons.”
“Obviously not,” he wrote.
State lawmakers crafted the legislation in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newton, Connecticut. Politicians, including Governor Kathy Hochul and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have described it as the toughest gun control law in the country.
Provisions of the law include limiting ammunition to 10 rounds, requirements for gun dealers to conduct background checks, among other things.
New York also has red flag laws, also known as the extreme risk protection order, which Hochul said should have prevented the teenager from purchasing a gun. The law allows a judge to issue the risk protection order that allows authorities to temporarily take guns from those who show or have the potential to harm themselves or others. Law enforcement, school officials and anyone who lives with the person can request an order.
The teenager mentioned in his posts that he was admitted to an emergency room on May 28, 2021, after he wrote “murder/suicide” to the question “What do you want to do when you retire?” for an online Economic class homework assignment at Susquehanna Valley High School.
“This experience only helped to prove my belief that people, even certified doctors are not concerned about helping you,” he wrote on Dec. 29, 2021.
“The NY safe act didn’t prevent me from buying an “assault rifle” legally and acquiring high capacity magazines,” he wrote.
The teenager also cited the provision that limits gun owners to 10 rounds as one that helped reassure him that he would have more ammunition than any law-abiding gun owner he might encounter during his attack.
While school officials alerted law enforcement of the incident, the teenager wrote that he was evaluated for 15 minutes by a medical professional and was able to lie his way out of it by saying he “was getting out of class and I just stupidly wrote that down.”
“That is the reason I believe I am still able to purchase guns,” the teenager wrote on Jan. 30. “It was not a joke, I wrote that down because that’s what I was planning to do. Perhaps it was a cry for help from me, I’m not actually sure, I wrote it down because it was the first thing that came to mind, and I didn’t think of the consequences.”
Broome County District Attorney Michael Korchak, the chief law enforcement official for the county in which the suspect is from, said Wednesday that authorities, including State Police and medical workers, conducted themselves appropriately in deeming the teenager a non-risk to himself or others based off that school incident last year.
“So, the fact that he was evaluated and found not to be dangerous and not be a threat to himself or others show that there was no basis to get one of those orders,” Korchak said.
Yet, Korchak said, the writings of the teenager do show that, “Obviously, he was suffering from some sort of delusion or mental illness.”
Hochul said the red flag law should have prevented situations such as the Buffalo massacre.
In response, Hochul on Wednesday signed an executive order to strengthen the red flag law, by requiring New York State Police to file extreme risk protection orders with probable cause to prohibit potentially dangerous people from purchasing and possessing guns.
“This is a wake-up call and here in New York we are taking strong steps to directly address this deadly threat,” Hochul said in a prepared statement.
On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted the suspect, but it continues to investigate. He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder and a grand jury indicted him Wednesday. His next court appearance is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. June 9.