Payton S. Gendron — suspected of killing 10 people and wounding three others — had created a private chat room on the communications app Discord, and invited people to view his chat logs before his attack at the Tops Friendly Markets store, a Discord spokesperson told CNN.
“What we know at this time is that a private, invite-only server was created by the suspect to serve as a personal diary chat log,” a spokesperson for Discord said Tuesday in a statement to CNN. “Approximately 30 minutes prior to the attack, however, a small group of people were invited to and joined the server. Before that, our records indicate no other people saw the diary chat log in this private server.”
The posts, which showed Gendron had been planning the shooting for several months, ultimately became public when he invited people to join, the spokesperson told CNN.
CNN has analyzed the suspected shooter’s posts, which were first on Discord and then posted more widely on the hate-filled 4Chan online forum.
In the posts, the alleged gunman wrote that he visited the supermarket three times on March 8 to survey the layout. He also said he used Google’s graph feature for a location’s “popular times” to determine the busiest times at the store.
Gendron also posted that he chose a specific ZIP code in Buffalo because it housed the greatest percentage of Black people that’s relatively near where he lived in Conklin, New York. The two cities are about 230 miles apart.
Discord removed the server and related content “as soon as” it was aware of it following the shooting, the spokesperson said. The company declined to say whether any of the people who were invited to view the logs alerted moderators to the posts.
CNN reached out to 4Chan asking about Gendron’s posts being shared on the platform but has not heard back.
The shooting targeting the supermarket in the heart of a predominantly Black community is being investigated as a hate crime and act of racially motivated violent extremism, authorities said, noting that 11 of the 13 people shot were Black.
Among those killed was a former police officer who tried to stop the shooter, a teacher, a taxi driver and some shoppers all ranging in age between 32 and 86.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families. Hate has no place on Discord and we are committed to combating violence and extremism,” the spokesperson said.
Gendron was charged with first-degree murder and pleaded not guilty, officials said, noting that additional charges are upcoming.
Suspect’s social media footprint central to investigation
Since the shooting, the suspect’s online trail has revealed details about his plans for the attack. And officials have been following his digital footprint to piece together his motives.
First, Gendron chose a grocery store to be his crime scene over a church or an elementary school because the store would attract many people at its peak times, according to his Discord posts that were published on 4Chan.
He then proceeded to take note of how many Black and White people were there each time he visited it on March 8 and drew a map of the store from the inside, his posts show. The posts also reveal that the shooter planned his attack for March 15 but delayed it several times.
When he carried out the shooting, he wore a tactical helmet and plated armor and was livestreaming his moves on camera, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said.
Officials are also examining a 180-page document they say was written by Gendron. The suspect confesses to the attack in the document and described himself as a fascist, a White supremacist and an anti-Semite.
The document says the attacker didn’t start seriously planning the attack until January. The author also shares his perspective on the dwindling size of the White population and claims of ethnic and cultural replacement of Whites.
“All the evidence that we ascertain from that manifesto, from wherever that manifesto leads us, other pieces of evidence we already had, we can then use that and develop more charges potentially,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said.
Previous school threat under investigation
Another warning sign is a threat he made last June when he attended Susquehanna Valley Central High School in Conklin, according to Gramaglia.
Gendron made a project on murder-suicides, which prompted police to take him for a mental health evaluation, Gramaglia said. Gendron was eventually released following the evaluation, he said.
Beau Duffy, a New York State police spokesperson, said at the time it was an evaluation and not an involuntary commitment — so it would not have prevented the suspected shooter from purchasing or possessing a gun under federal law.
Now Broome County District Attorney Michael Korchak said his office is investigating that school threat incident as well as the suspect’s overall behavior.
“We’re even going back several years as far as what his behavior was at that point in time, his relationship with his family, his relationship with teachers and students at the school,” Korchak told CNN.
He added that it’s “hard to say” whether more should have been done at the time of the threat was made.
“So there were no direct threats made to any student or teacher,” Korchak said. “Individuals that have mental health issues may have it under control for a period of time, and then one day they just snap and things as tragic as this happen.”
No red flag order requested
After the school threat, New York State Police officials did not seek a “Red Flag” order of protection against Gendron, a state police spokesman told CNN on Tuesday.
The Red Flag Law, also known as the extreme risk protection order law, that was enacted on August 24, 2019, is designed to prevent anyone who shows signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing a firearm, according to New York’s official website.
State police declined to go into details about why they did not seek the red flag. A law enforcement official told CNN that “the threat was general in nature and did not target the school or anyone in particular, and did not specifically mention shooting or firearms.”
A former senior official in the state Office of Mental Health told CNN earlier this week that certain clinicians who determine if someone’s “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others” are required to report that to a county health commissioner, who can report that to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, which can block people from buying guns and revoke gun permits.
The official said federal law prohibits someone involuntarily committed to a mental health institution from buying a gun. It doesn’t cover someone in a mental institution “for observation,” the official said.