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Buffalo mass shooting suspect arraigned on 25 counts, including domestic terrorism

Payton Gendron Horizontal Photo
Erie County District Attorney
Payton S. Gendron, 18, is the accused gunman in the Buffalo mass shooting.

(EDITORIAL NOTE: While WBFO has chosen not to give the accused gunman extra fame nor gratuitously name him, in stories about his court proceedings, we have opted to identify him. To not do so would be incomplete journalism, and people of color have suggested that anonymity could provide cover to racism that ought to be otherwise exposed and discussed.)

The suspect in the May 14 mass shooting in Buffalo was in court Thursday afternoon, facing arraignment on 25 counts, including one count of first degree domestic terrorism.

Payton Gendron, appearing with his team of court-appointed attorneys, entered a plea of not guilty and remains held without bail. In addition to the domestic terror charge, he faces 10 counts of first degree murder, 10 counts of second degree murder as a hate crime, three counts of attempted second degree murder as a hate crime and one count of second degree criminal possession of a weapon.

“When you hear the phrase ‘throw the book at someone,’ in this case right here, the defendant got War and Peace,” said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn following proceedings.

New York State has had domestic terrorism criminal statutes on the books for less than two years. They went into effect in November 2020 and this case is the first that will apply those statutes. A conviction on the first degree domestic terror as a hate crime count would mean automatic life in prison with no chance for parole.

Last month, shortly after the shootings, Flynn initially charged the defendant with one count of first degree murder in order to ensure he could be held in custody, but that raised criticism by some who wondered why he didn’t pursue a hate crime charge from the start.

“The reason why I didn't charge the hate crime right away is because we had to keep doing the investigation more. The murder in the first degree charge was staring me right in the face,” Flynn explained. “Now, one could make the argument that the hate crime was staring you in the face as well. I recognize that, but the hate crime is more nuanced. The hate crime is an enhancement to an underlying charge. And so there's more to that. And I wanted to make sure I had my "I's" dotted and "T's" crossed before I added on more charges.”

Prosecutors said Gendron traveled hundreds of miles to Buffalo and specifically targeted a known predominantly Black neighborhood.

Flynn explained that the reason for the criminal weapon possession charge was that while the gun allegedly used in the Tops supermarket attack was acquired legally, the weapon was illegally modified.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown also spoke after the arraignment about continuing gun violence nationwide.

“We must demand as a country, every state in this nation, that federal lawmakers who have been resistant to doing something about sensible gun reform, that they change that stance and we take action that will prevent these kinds of mass shootings and this kind of mass murder from continuing to happen in our country,” Brown said.

Federal investigators continue their own probe into the Buffalo shootings.

“I've said it before, we owe it to the victims of this horrible crime to not just put together prosecutions in the state or in the federal sides, but we owe it to them to tell the story of what happened, why it happened. And that's what we're doing,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Belongia. “It's a painstaking process. There's been an enormous amount of information and data collected today. It takes time to get through all that and we're continuing at a very vigorous clip to do that.”

Belongia, when asked about whether federal charges were pending, stated that would be for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to discuss. Local U.S. Attorney Trini Ross was not present at the news conference that followed Gendron’s arraignment.

A noticeably larger than usual number of officers and security were inside the courtroom during the arraignment. Several members of the victims' families were also present. One woman could be heard at the end of proceedings sobbing loudly.

The defendant is due back in state Supreme Court July 7 at 2 p.m.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.