The 19-year-old man accused of a white supremacist attack that killed 10 people inside a Buffalo supermarket in May pleaded guilty to 15 felony charges Monday morning, according to state prosecutors and court records.
Though Payton Gendron has not officially been sentenced, he pleaded guilty to a felony count of a domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate, which triggers an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, who spoke at a press conference shortly after the court proceeding. It’s the first time someone has been charged under the 2020 statute anywhere in the state, according to Flynn.
“I thank God the families and the victims who survived this, and this community don’t have to endure a long protracted trial,” Flynn said.
Gendron also pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder charges.
Flynn described the “overwhelming” evidence prosecutors amassed over the course of their investigation, which included security camera footage and Gendron’s own livestream on Twitch.
Gendron’s motives were outlined in an online manifesto. Flynn said he intended, “to kill as many African Americans as possible."
The mass shooting at the Tops Friendly Market — one of the few supermarkets in Buffalo’s predominantly Black east side neighborhood — sent shock waves across the nation, after investigators revealed Gendron traveled several hours from his home to deliberately target the busy Buffalo store. He wore tactical gear while opening fire with a legally purchased AR-15.
Speaking at Monday’s press conference Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown called the attack an act of “premeditated pure evil.”
“There is a message in the Buffalo story that some are still missing. Sadly, since May 14, 2022, there have been hundreds of additional mass shootings in the United States of America,” he said. “We have to do more to stop it.”
In June, Gendron was indicted on more than two dozen felony counts including murder, attempted murder and a count of domestic terrorism motivated by hate. He’s been detained in the custody of the Erie County Sheriff's office since the May 14 attack.
In addition to the state charges, Gendron faces 27 federal counts including hate crimes charges, which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison or the death penalty, according to federal prosecutors.
Among the victims of the attack were a civil rights and education advocate, the mother of the city’s retired fire commissioner, the store’s security guard who tried to fend off the attacker, a neighborhood jitney driver, a grandmother and a school bus aide, the Buffalo News reported. Three other people were shot but survived the attack.
Gendron and his attorneys decided not to pursue a psychiatric defense last month.
His lawyers spoke to the press following his guilty plea, though they didn’t take questions, the Associated Press reported.
“This critical step represents a condemnation of the racist ideology that fueled his horrific actions on May 14,” attorney Brian Parker said, according to the AP. “It is our hope that a final resolution of the state charges will help in some small way to keep the focus on the needs of the victims and the community.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul, who hails from Buffalo, commented on the plea shortly after it was entered.
"The families of the victims of the Buffalo massacre of May 14 deserve justice and this is a step in what is going to be long and painful process," Hochul told reporters Monday. The state passed a series of gun laws in the wake of the mass shooting, including a provision barring people under age 21 from buying semi-automatic weapons.
Hochul said she has made gun control a top priority during her time as governor and would continue to do so.
"Everybody in this state deserves to have that sense of safety — not just a sense, but the reality of safety in their communities," she said.
This story has been updated to reflect Gendron's guilty plea as well as to include additional comment.