The 19-year-old white man who killed 10 Black people in a racist mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket in May pleaded guilty in a New York court on Monday to a raft of state murder and terrorism charges.
Payton Gendron appeared in a court in Buffalo to face 25 state charges in connection with the shooting. His guilty plea means there will be no trial on these charges and also ensures that he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“This critical step represents a condemnation of the racist ideology that fueled his horrific actions,” defense attorney Brian Parker told reporters.
The defendant, who was 18 at the time of the attack, is the first person to be charged under a 2020 New York law against domestic terrorism motivated by hate, which carries an automatic sentence of life without parole.
“No individual in the history of the state of New York has been found guilty of that domestic terrorism charge motivated by hate until today,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said at a news conference.
"Justice has been done today," Flynn added.
The shooter is also facing federal hate crime charges — three counts of hate crime involving bodily injury, an attempt to kill, and 13 counts of firearms offenses — which could carry the death penalty.
Before the shooter is formally sentenced on the state charges at a later hearing, surviving victims and the loved ones of those killed will have a chance to address the court. “While this is going to be painful to some, I think that it is important. I think that is necessary,” Flynn said.
Prior to the court appearance on Monday, an attorney representing victims’ families said they’d been informed that the shooter was going to enter a guilty plea. "It avoids a lengthy trial that they believe would be very difficult for the families," attorney Terrence Connors told NBC News. "I think it was pretty clear that they had no real defense."
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said that witnessing Monday's court hearing, which was closed to news cameras, was unlike anything he'd seen in his 28-year career. "I've been in a lot of courtrooms and I have never been impacted like I was today to actually see this individual in the courtroom pleading guilty to these vicious, horrific, hateful, racist murders," Gramaglia said.
In court and at the news conference on Monday, Flynn laid out the evidence against the shooter, insisting it was important for the public to hear the case against him. Investigators said that the teen traveled more than 200 miles to a majority-Black neighborhood in Buffalo to carry out the shooting on May 14, which he streamed live on Twitch. He had searched online for the New York zip code with the highest concentration of Black people, as well as conducted "reconnaissance" visits to the Tops Friendly Market to learn its layout and security protections, and to determine at what times of day there were the most Black shoppers.
Prior to the shooting, he had also posted a hate-filled screed online prior to the shooting, invoking the racist "great replacement" conspiracy theory that white people such as himself were being systematically "replaced" by nonwhite people.
Surveillance footage, and footage from his own camera, captured the shooter killing Black people in the store and its parking lot in an attack that lasted roughly two minutes. He had used a semiautomatic rifle that he had illegally modified into an assault weapon to conduct the massacre.
After shooting 13 people, 10 of whom died, he was arrested outside the supermarket. Eleven of those who were shot, including all those who died, were Black.
As evidence of the shooter's racist motivations, District Attorney Flynn said Monday that the assailant apologized to the store's white manager during the rampage after shooting and injuring him.
Federal prosecutors said the teen’s motive "was to prevent Black people from replacing white people and eliminating the white race and to inspire others to commit similar attacks," according to a criminal complaint filed in the Western District of New York.
In his bedroom, investigators found a “goodbye letter” addressed to his family in which he wrote that he "had to commit this attack" because it was "for the future of the white race," the complaint states.
"No one in this country should have to live in fear that they will go to work or shop at the grocery store, and they will be attacked by someone who hates them because of the color of their skin, someone who commits that act because he subscribes to the vile theory that only people like him belong in this country," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in Buffalo after the attack.
The New York attorney general’s office released a report this year claiming that online platforms like Twitch had been “weaponized to publicize and encourage copycat violent attacks” with little to no oversight, transparency, and accountability.
"This guilty plea was certainly no surprise," Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said Monday. "The world knew that this mass murderer was guilty because he livestreamed it for all to see."
Brown added, "The penalty for this horrific crime is for this individual never, ever to see the light of day again."
The supermarket shooting was the deadliest in 2022 until another 18-year-old attacked an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, just 10 days later, killing 19 children and 2 adults. Like the Buffalo shooting suspect, the alleged shooter in Texas legally bought the weapon he used to carry out the attack.
Gun violence in the US is a public health crisis, according to the American Public Health Association. It is a leading cause of premature death in the country, responsible for more than 38,000 deaths annually. As of Nov. 28, more than 18,000 people have been killed from gun violence so far in 2022, while roughly 22,000 others have died from suicide, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.