Shocked residents of Buffalo, New York gathered on Sunday at vigils and church services to mourn 10 people killed in a racially motivated shooting by a white gunman, as United States President Joe Biden said hate remains “a stain on the soul of America”.
The US Department of Justice, Biden added, has announced it is investigating the rampage “as a hate crime, racially motivated act of white supremacy and violent extremism”.
The suspected shooter, identified as 18-year-old Payton Gendron, was arrested at the scene, a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighbourhood.
The gunman had driven from his hometown of Conklin, more than 320km (200 miles) away, police said.
Gendron was arraigned late on Saturday on a single count of first-degree murder and held without bail, the Erie County district attorney’s office said. He pleaded not guilty.
The suspected shooter was wearing body armour, carried an assault rifle and live-streamed the attack, police said, adding that of the 10 dead and three wounded, 11 were African Americans.
Screenshots purporting to be from the live Twitch broadcast appear to show a racial epithet scrawled on the rifle used in the attack, as well as the number 14, a likely reference to a white supremacist slogan.
Residents gathered outside the store for the vigil, while New York Governor Kathy Hochul, the state’s Attorney General Letitia James and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown addressed a service at the city’s True Bethel Baptist Church.
In alternately angry and mournful tones, speakers denounced the latest deadly shooting incident.
Hochul, herself a Buffalo native, described the crime as a “military-style execution” – she said the shooter carried an AR-15 assault weapon – and said racist messaging was “spreading like wildfire”.
Speaking on ABC, she described social media platforms as “instruments of this evil”, saying they allowed racist themes to “spread like a virus”.
The attack evoked memories of some of the worst racist attacks in recent US history, including the 2015 killing by a young white man of nine worshippers in a Black church in South Carolina, and the 2019 attack by a white man in Texas that claimed 23 lives, most of them Latino.
Attorney General James, who is Black, described Saturday’s attack as “domestic terrorism, plain and simple” and said the shooter would be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law”.
Among those killed inside was a retired police officer working as a security guard. He fired several shots at the assailant before being shot himself, police said.
When police arrived, the shooter put the gun to his neck, but was talked down and surrendered.
The victims were ordinary shoppers and store workers.
One, according to a Twitter post, was a 77-year-old “mother, grandma & missionary” who “loved singing, dancing & being with family” and who for 25 years had run a weekly pantry to feed the poor.
“It’s just too much. I’m trying to bear witness but it’s just too much. You can’t even go to the damn store in peace,” Buffalo resident Yvonne Woodard told the AP. “It’s just crazy.”
At a Sunday vigil in Buffalo’s Elim Christian Fellowship church, pastor T Anthony Bronner urged both prayer and political action.
“Some of us are very angry this morning,” he said, but “we respond in prayer – and we respond on our feet.”
Media reports linked the shooter to a 180-page manifesto that described a white supremacist ideology and laid out a plan to target a mainly Black neighbourhood. He had researched the local demographics while looking for places with a high concentration of Black residents, law enforcement officials said on Sunday.
Federal authorities were still working to confirm the authenticity of the manifesto, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
In addition to mentioning the South Carolina church shooting, the gunman reportedly said he had been “inspired” by the gunman who killed 51 worshippers in a New Zealand mosque in March 2019.