Gunman in racist mass shooting in Buffalo gets life in prison

Peyton Gendron apologizes in court after admitting he ‘shot and killed people because they were Black’.

Payton Gendron
Payton Gendron has received concurrent life sentences for the Buffalo supermarket shooting, one for each victim [File: Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

A white supremacist who killed 10 Black people, at a US grocery store has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, after victims’ relatives confronted him in court.

Anger briefly turned physical at Payton Gendron’s sentencing when a man in the audience rushed at him. The man was quickly restrained; prosecutors later said he would not be charged. The proceeding then resumed with more emotional outpouring from people who lost loved ones or were themselves wounded in the attack.

The May 2022 shooting was premeditated, Gendron had scouted out the mainly Black neighbourhood a three-hour drive from his home, creating a diagram of the grocery store’s layout and issuing a self-described manifesto about preserving white power in the United States.

Gendron, whose hatred was driven by racist conspiracy theories he encountered online, cried during some of the testimony and apologised to victims and their families in a brief statement.

Some angrily condemned him; others quoted from the Bible or said they were praying for him. Several pointed out that he deliberately attacked a Black community far from his nearly all-white hometown.

A memorial outside the Tops grocery store
A man kneels at a memorial in 2022 outside the Tops grocery store, where 10 people were killed in a mass shooting [File: Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

“You don’t know a damn thing about Black people. We’re human. We like our kids to go to good schools. We love our kids,” said Barbara Massey Mapps, whose sister Katherine was killed in the attack.

As she was speaking a man lunged towards Gendron. “You don’t know what we are going through,” he shouted as he was led away by court officers.

In his short statement, Gendron acknowledged that he “shot and killed people because they were Black”.

“I believed what I read online and acted out of hate, and now, I can’t take it back, but I wish I could, and I don’t want anyone to be inspired by me,” he said as a woman in the courtroom audience stood up, screamed that “we don’t need” his remarks and stormed out.

There were only three survivors among the 13 people he shot while specifically seeking out Black shoppers and workers.

Gendron had pleaded guilty in November first-degree murder and “hate-motivated domestic terrorism” a charge that carried an automatic life sentence.

“There was nothing hasty or thoughtless about your conduct. There are no mitigating factors to be considered,” Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan told the defendant.

Gendron received separate, concurrent life sentences — one for each victim. Jand was denied youthful offender status, which would have given him the possibility of reentering society. He was 18 at the time of the mass shooting.

Gendron was also faceing separate federal charges that could carry a death sentence if the US Department of Justice were to seek it. His defence lawyers said in December that Gendron is prepared to plead guilty in federal court, as well, to avoid execution.

Gendron is the first defendant in New York to be charged with domestic terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree under the Josef Neumann Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act, a state law enacted in November 2020.

The law was named for a rabbi killed in a home invasion over the Hanukkah holiday by an anti-Semitic attacker, and it makes reference to the fact that criminal acts “based upon bias and prejudice have become more prevalent” in recent years.

“Hate crimes do more than threaten the safety and welfare of all citizens,” the law reads. “They inflict on victims incalculable physical and emotional damage and tear at the very fabric of free society.”

At the sentencing hearing, Gendron could be seen crying as he heard testimony. One store employee, Christopher Braden, described being shot in the leg and seeing other victims on the floor around him.

“The visions haunt me in my sleep and every day,” Braden told the court.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies