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Ten killed in ‘racially motivated’ shooting at US grocery store

BUFFALO (AFP) – A heavily armed 18-year-old white man shot 10 people dead on Saturday at a Buffalo, New York grocery store in a “racially motivated” attack that he live-streamed on camera, authorities said.

The gunman, who was wearing body armour and a helmet, was arrested after the massacre, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told a news conference.

Gramaglia put the toll at 10 dead and three wounded. Eleven of the victims were African Americans.

The gunman shot four people in the parking lot of the Tops supermarket, three of them fatally, then went inside and continued firing, Gramaglia said.

Among those killed inside the store was a retired police officer working as an armed security guard.

Police on scene at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York. PHOTO: AFP

The guard “engaged the suspect, fired multiple shots”, but the gunman shot him, Gramaglia said.

He added that when police arrived, the shooter put the gun to his neck, but was talked down and surrendered.

Special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office Stephen Belongia told the news conference that the shooting is being investigated as a hate crime.

“We are investigating this incident as both a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism,” Belongia said.

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia described the attack as “pure evil”.

“It was straight up racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community,” he said.

When asked what information led authorities to term the attack a hate crime, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said they had evidence indicating “racial animosity”, but declined to elaborate.

United States (US) media outlets have reported officials are investigating a detailed “manifesto” posted online before the shooting, in which the suspect outlines his plans and racial motivations for the attack.

Quoting from the manifesto, the New York Times reported the suspect had been “inspired” by white supremacist acts of violence, including the massacre of 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019.

A semi-automatic weapon used in Saturday’s shooting also had a racial epithet written on it as well as the number 14 – a reference to a white supremacist phrase – according to local daily The Buffalo News, citing a local official.

District Attorney Flynn said in the press conference that the shooter used an “assault weapon” – a term that can apply to types of rifles and shotguns in New York – but did not specify which kind. Flynn’s office said in a tweet on Saturday that the suspect – identified as Payton Gendron of Conklin, New York – had been arraigned on a charge of first-degree murder, which carries a sentence of life without parole. He is being held  without bail.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said the shooter “travelled hours from outside this community to perpetrate this crime”.

“This is a day of great pain for our community,” Brown said.

Despite recurring mass-casualty shootings and a nationwide wave of gun violence, multiple initiatives to reform gun regulations have failed in the US Congress, leaving states and local councils to enact their own restrictions.

The US suffered 19,350 firearm homicides in 2020, up nearly 35 per cent compared to 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in its latest data.