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US mourn victims of racist mass shooting at store

10 people were shot and killed by an alleged teenage white supremacist in an act one official described as “domestic terrorism, pure and simple”.

Worshippers are overcome with emotion during a service at True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York
Worshippers are overcome with emotion during a service at True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York
Image: Joshua Bessex/PA Images

Updated May 15th 2022, 4:55 PM

SHOCKED RESIDENTS OF Buffalo, New York gathered today at vigils and church services to mourn 10 people shot and killed by an alleged white supremacist teenager in an act one official described as “domestic terrorism, pure and simple.”

The shooter, identified as 18-year-old Payton Gendron, was arrested at the scene, a grocery store in a predominately Black neighbourhood after police rushed to respond to emergency calls.

He had driven from his home town of Conklin, more than 200 miles (320 kilometres) 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.

The 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.

‘A hateful soul’

US President Joe Biden offered a potent condemnation of racist extremism, and he called for citizens to end the hate that remains a “stain on the soul of America.”

“A lone gunman, armed with weapons of war and a hateful soul, shot and killed 10 innocent people in cold blood at a grocery store on Saturday afternoon” in western New York state, Biden said in Washington at a service for fallen US police officers.

“We must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America,” the president said.

US authorities were “still gathering the facts,” Biden added.

But he noted that the Justice Department has announced it is investigating the rampage “as a hate crime, racially motivated act of white supremacy and violent extremism.”

“Hearts are heavy once again,” Biden said, “but our resolve must never, ever waver.”

‘Military-style execution’

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 eruption of racist violence and the ready availability of high-power guns in what has become a sadly familiar scene across America.

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.”

Hochul called on officials of both political parties to “make sure these people crawl back into their holes and stay there.”

Speaking on ABC, she described social media 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 Hispanic.

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.”

‘Mother and missionary’

The gunman shot four people in the store’s parking lot, three of them fatally, before going inside.

Among those killed inside the store was a retired police officer working as an armed security guard. He was able to fire several shots at the assailant before being shot, 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.

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At a Sunday vigil in Buffalo’s Elim Christian Fellowship church, pastor T. Anthony Bronner urged both prayer and political action in response to an attack.

“Some of us are very angry this morning,” he said, but “we respond in prayer – and we respond on our feet.”

The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime “and a case of racially motivated violent extremism,” Stephen Belongia, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office, told reporters.

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.

In addition to mentioning the South Carolina church shooting, the gunman reportedly said he had been “inspired” by the gunman who killed 51 people in a New Zealand mosque in March 2019.

A semi-automatic weapon used in Saturday’s shooting also had a racial epithet written on its barrel, according to the Buffalo News, citing a local official.

In a video call to True Bethel Baptist Church, New York Senator Charles Schumer called racism “the poison of America” and said, “We must tackle the scourge of gun violence and finally ban the weapons of war from our streets.”

But in the face of a strong pro-gun lobby, past efforts by the US Congress at tightening the nation’s gun laws have generally fallen short – even after some of the most horrific shootings.

The United States suffered 19,350 firearm homicides in 2020, up nearly 35 percent compared to 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its latest data.

Local media said Gendron had pleaded not guilty at his arraignment. If convicted he would face a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole.

© AFP 2022

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