On the porch of the Gendrons’ home in Conklin, a town of 5,000 in upstate New York, was a stone bearing Payton Gendron’s handprint. Someone had made the handprint in cement, stamped the boy’s first name in capital letters, drawn a heart shape and marked the date: 2008 – when Payton Gendron was only four years old.
At around 2:30 p.m. last Saturday, that same hand was in a supermarket in Buffalo, 330 kilometers (205 miles) from his home, pulling the trigger on an AR-15 type assault rifle, which had been modified to carry more ammunition than legally permitted. The boy – now an 18-year-old white supremacist indoctrinated by online conspiracy theories on social media such as Reddit and 4chan – sought to kill as many black people as possible.
Gendron arrived at the Tops Friendly Market parking lot, motivated by the so-called “great replacement” theory, which falsely claims that white people are being replaced demographically and culturally by non-white immigrants and minority groups as part of a master plan concocted by leftists. the elite. This theory emerged in France, but has a strong hold in the United States thanks to the support of the Republican Party and popular television hosts such as Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson. Before Gendron was arrested, he murdered 10 black people and injured three others in the Jefferson Avenue supermarket in East Buffalo.
Dressed in military attire, including a helmet and body armor, as well as symbols of white supremacy, the shooter had driven his car to Buffalo the previous day and spent just over three hours there. First he took the typical American highway, with its seamless service areas on both sides. Then, ride a two-lane national road through quaint towns with wooden farmhouses and quaint houses.
The house Conklin lived in with his parents and two brothers perfectly captures the essence of suburban America, with its neatly mown lawns and basketball hoop in the driveway. Thursday afternoon, as yellow school buses brought children home from school, the street was deserted. The sun was finally shining after a dull morning of fog and rain, but the lights on the porch of Gendron’s house were on. No one answered the door. Previously, a lady had politely refused to give information about the family. “I respect their privacy,” she said. Nearby, a teenager the same age as the shooter described his neighbor as “evasive” before disappearing behind a garage door.
From this idyllic suburban home, a number – 14208 – guided Gendron to his destination last Saturday. In planning for the bombing, the young man cross-referenced all the ZIP codes in New York State with the demographics of each area until he found the one with the highest concentration of black people. That’s how he ended up in the supermarket in the eastern half of Buffalo, one of the most segregated cities in the United States. But, in reality, his journey had begun much earlier.
During the first coronavirus lockdown, in the spring of 2020, a bored Gendron began descending into the darker corners of the internet, hopping from one chatroom about guns to one about political extremism, until ’til he ended up in forums that warned of the extinction of the white race. In June of the following year, while graduating from a high school in Conklin, a city where 90% of the population is white, students were asked what they planned to do after graduation. . The boy, then 17, replied that he was planning a “murder-suicide”, an act of violence that has become all too common in the United States: a gunman murders several people and then commits suicide. The school called the police, he said it was all a joke and he was sent for a psychiatric evaluation.
Two weeks later, he graduated and fell off the police radar. According to state law, police should have put his “murder-suicide” comment on his record, which would have prevented him from buying a gun. But that didn’t happen. Susquehanna Valley High School, where Gendron had attended, put up two student-made banners on Thursday with the message: “We stand with Buffalo.”
Between that first alert and the Buffalo Massacre, Gendron descended further into the underworld of white supremacy — a descent that neither his parents nor the authorities knew how to recognize. This journey is detailed in a chilling 180-page manifesto that Gendron first posted on a social network called Discord and then on 4chan. According to the document, which is replete with racist conspiracy theories and discussions of the pros and cons of different weapons, Gendron purchased a huge arsenal of weapons in January of this year. He bought the guns from a gun store 20 miles from his home in a town called Endicott. The shop owner said this week that he doesn’t remember Gendron, however the shop has a record of his purchase.
Gendron’s manifesto is, in substance and form, an imitation of one written by 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019. Tarrant, sentenced to life in prison, broadcast live 17 minutes of the killing. The Buffalo shooter also streamed the massacre on Twitch, an Amazon-owned live-streaming platform popular among gaming enthusiasts. By the time Twitch managed to delete the video, it was too late: it had already been shared on the internet.
Gendron chose Tops Friendly Market precisely because it served as a meeting place for neighborhood shoppers, many of whom were older customers. Among the evidence uncovered by police are hand-drawn plans of the store, which he visited in March and last Friday at 4 p.m., which he considered the perfect day and time to carry out his plans . It’s unclear why he didn’t carry out Friday’s attack. Investigators concluded he slept in his car that night, in a parking lot in the nearby town of Cheektowaga.
“He looked like he wanted to get shot”
It’s also unclear why he excluded other targets, such as a hair salon in Buffalo, a Walmart in Rochester and a mall in Syracuse. What seems clear is that he intended to kill more people after he left the supermarket, which he left a few months after he stopped shooting. He then stood motionless in front of the police. “It looked like he wanted to be shot,” said a witness. The situation has many people in East Buffalo asking, “What would have happened at that time if the shooter had been a black man?”
On the same Saturday of the shooting, he was arraigned and officers raided his family home in Conklin. Gendron is currently charged with first degree murder. He appeared in court again on Thursday, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and wearing a mask. In the room were several relatives of the victims. One of them yelled at him, “Payton, you are a coward! He didn’t speak. Gendron was indicted by a grand jury and is due back in court on June 9.
Officers have already concluded the crime scene investigation, so the supermarket will be able to reopen soon, which will come as a relief to its neighbours, who stock up on fresh produce from makeshift stalls set up by charities behind the backs of the peaks.
Investigators are now focusing on an invite Gendron sent to his private Discord chat room just half an hour before the shooting. The invitation, titled “Happening: This is not a drill”, was accepted by 15 people, who were then able to access the plans he had been brewing for months as well as the livestream, which was filmed from a camera in his helmet. One of the appeals of Discord is the anonymity it promises its users. The police are now trying to clarify to what extent those who accepted the invitation are complicit in the massacre.