Buffalo, New York – A white gunman accused of racist massacres at a Buffalo supermarket made threatening comments that led police to his high school last spring, but he was never charged with a crime and had no more contact with law enforcement after his release. from a hospital, officials said.
The revelation raised questions about whether his meeting with police and the mental health system was another missed opportunity to put a potential mass shooter under tighter law enforcement scrutiny, ask for help or make sure he doesn’t have access to deadly firearms.
Authorities say they are investigating the attack on mostly black shoppers and Tops Friendly Market workers as a potential federal hate crime or an act of domestic terrorism. Saturday’s massacre in Buffalo was the deadliest in a wave of fatal shootings over the weekend, including at a California church and flea market in Texas.
18-year-old Peyton Hendron traveled about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from his home in Conklin, New York, to Buffalo to carry out the attack, police said.
Federal authorities are still working to verify the authenticity of the 180-page racist document, allegedly written by Gendron, which said the attack was intended to terrorize all non-whites, non-Christians and make them leave the country.
Law enforcement officials revealed on Sunday that New York State Police had been called to Gendron High School last June to report that the 17-year-old had made threatening statements at the time.
Gendron has threatened to shoot at the Susquehanna Valley High School in Conklin around graduation, a law enforcement official said on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the investigation.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramagia said Hendron had no more contact with law enforcement after a mental health assessment that put him in hospital for a day and a half.
“No one called,” he said. “No one has filed any complaints,” Gramagia said. The threat is “general” in nature, he said, and is not race-related.
New York is one of several states that have passed red flag laws in recent years to try to prevent mass shootings by people who show signs that they could pose a threat to themselves or for the others.
These laws allow law enforcement officials, a person’s family, or in some cases medical professionals or school staff to petition the court to temporarily seize a person’s firearms or to prevent the purchase of weapons.
Federal law prohibits people from owning a weapon if a judge determines that they have a “mental defect” or have been forced into a psychiatric facility – but the assessment alone would not trigger the ban.
It is unclear whether officials could have invoked the Red Flag ordinance following the high school incident. Police and prosecutors would not provide details of the incident, nor say when Gendron purchased the weapons used in the attack.
The long list of mass shootings in the United States, including missed intervention opportunities, includes the massacre in 2018 of 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where law enforcement officials received numerous complaints about the shooter’s threatening statements and the killings of more than two dozen people at a church in Texas in 2017 by a former U.S. Air Force officer who managed to buy a gun despite a violent history.
Victims of Saturday’s attack in Buffalo include an 86-year-old woman who has just visited her husband in a nursing home, a man buying a cake for his grandson, a church deacon helping people go home with their groceries and supermarket.
The shooter broadcast live the attack on Twitch, which prompted a test of how quickly social platforms reacted to violent videos.
President Joe Biden plans to visit Buffalo on Tuesday.
Hendron turned himself in to police, who confronted him in the lobby of the supermarket. He was charged later Saturday with murder charges. Relatives did not respond to reports.
A long statement circulating online attributed to Gendron outlines a racist ideology rooted in the belief that the United States should belong only to white people.
Portions of the Twitch video, which is being distributed online, show the shooter killing multiple buyers in less than a minute. At one point, he points his weapon at a white man who curls up behind the cash register, but says “I’m sorry!” And doesn’t fire. The screenshots, which are said to be from the show, appear to show a racial insult directed at black people scratched on his rifle.
Authorities said he shot a total of 11 blacks and two whites.
“This man came here with the explicit goal of taking as many black lives as possible,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said Sunday.
Associated Press reporters Robert Bumstead in Buffalo, Michael Hill in Albany, New York, Travis Lawler in Nashville and Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to the reports. Balsamo reported from Washington.
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Previous threat to the Buffalo shooter, hospital stay under surveillance
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