Thirty minutes before an 18-year-old white man carried out a racist shooting Saturday at a predominantly black supermarket in Buffalo, New York, he revealed his months-long plot to some on social media.
Payton S., who is suspected of killing 10 people and injuring three others. Gendron – created a private chat room on the communications app Discord and invited people to view his chat logs before launching the attack at the Topps Friendly Markets store, a Discord spokesperson told CNN.
“What we now know is that the suspect created a private, invite-only server to act as a private diary chat log,” a spokesperson for Discord said in a statement to CNN on Tuesday. “About 30 minutes before the attack, however, a small group of people were invited to the server and joined. Before that, our records indicate that no one else has seen the diary chat log on this private server.
After Gendron invited people to join the Discord server, his previously private chat room posts became accessible to the invitees and anyone they may have shared access with, the spokesperson told CNN.
Meanwhile, New York’s attorney general said on Wednesday it was opening an investigation into social media companies authorities say Gendron used, including the popular live-streaming platform Twitch, online forums 4chan and Discord.
“My office is launching an investigation into the social media companies the Buffalo shooter used to plan, promote and stream his terror attack,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said. said on Twitter on Wednesday.
The governor said Wednesday that he will report the findings of the investigation to New York Gov. Cathy Hochul.
“These social media platforms must take responsibility. “They need to be more vigilant in monitoring content and be responsible for favoring engagement over public safety,” Hochul said.
A company spokeswoman said Discord would cooperate with the state attorney general’s investigation.
In Discord posts — eventually shared more widely on the hate-filled online forum 4chan — the alleged gunman wrote that he visited the supermarket three times on March 8 to survey its layout. He also wrote that he used Google’s graph feature on a location’s “Popular Times” to determine the busiest times in the store.
In Discord posts that ran from mid-November to May, Gendron wrote that he chose the ZIP code in Buffalo because it had the largest percentage of black residents near his home in Conklin, New York. The cities are about 230 miles apart.
Discord took down the server and associated content as soon as it became aware of the shooting, the spokesperson said. The company declined to say whether anyone had been invited to view the logs.
4Chan has not responded to CNN’s requests about sharing Gendron’s posts on the platform.
A shooting at a supermarket in the heart of a predominantly black community is being investigated as a hate crime and a racially motivated act of violent extremism, authorities said, adding that 11 of the 13 people shot were black. The dead included a former police officer who tried to stop the shooter, a teacher, a taxi driver and a shopper aged between 32 and 86.
The suspect used Twitch to stream a live broadcast during the attack, the company previously confirmed, adding that it was “shattering” to hear about the shooting. Twitch said the user “has been suspended from our service indefinitely, and we are taking all appropriate action, including monitoring any accounts rebroadcasting this content.”
A Twitch spokesperson said the company took down the live stream less than two minutes after the violence began.
Gendron has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, officials said, noting that additional charges are pending.
Topps Market employee Jerome Bridges said he was in a store aisle when he heard the shots ring out.
“All you heard was gunfire, constant gunfire — firing, firing, firing,” Bridges, the scan coordinator at the market, told CNN. He sprang into action, ushering three of his colleagues and several customers into the store’s break room, blocking the door with an oak desk.
“I ran to the back of the store where the conference room is, down the long hallway, and I grabbed my product manager, my night ops manager, a cashier and about five or six customers and told them to go up there. Duck,” he recalled. “That’s when I thought, maybe he’s coming through the door. So, there is an old oak table, and I put one hand on the door and closed the door.
Bridges said he could hear people screaming and crying as he tried to keep the group he was with quiet on the ground as the shooter approached from the other side of the door. He said he remembered seeing the suspected shooter at the market weeks earlier, “and he was wearing the same clothes.”
“When I was sitting on that table, making sure nobody could get through it, I thought he was actually going to get back in there and start shooting at the doors and stuff,” Bridges said. “I wanted to make sure I kept the customers and my other three colleagues very safe. So, even if I would have died, I would have died protecting them.
After the shooting, the suspect’s online trial revealed details about plans for the attack. Officers followed his digital footprints to piece together his motives.
At first, according to his Discord posts published on 4chan, Gendron chose a grocery store as his crime scene rather than a church or elementary school because the store would attract many people during its peak hours.
Each time he visited on March 8, he noticed how many black and white people were there and drew a map of the store’s interior, his posts show. The posts also reveal that the shooter planned his attack on March 15 but delayed it several times.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said he wore a tactical helmet and plated armor and live-streamed his movements as he fired.
Officials are examining a 180-page racist document written by Gendron and posted online shortly before the shooting. In it, the suspect confessed to the attack and described himself as a fascist, white supremacist and anti-Semitic.
According to the document, the attackers did not seriously plan the attack until January. The author shares his perspective on the decline of the white population and claims of white racial and cultural substitution.
“Any evidence we find from that manifesto, wherever that manifesto leads us, other evidence we already had, we can use that and develop more charges,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said.
Discord, which launched in 2015, isn’t as well-known as big names like Instagram, even as it surged to 150 million monthly active users globally during the pandemic. Reminiscent of anonymous chat rooms, it blends the chaotic and personalized world of early AOL chat rooms or work chat app Slack with MySpace, also known for its video game communities.
Another warning sign could have been a threat he made in June when he was a student at Susquehanna Valley Central High School in Conklin, Gramaglia said.
Gendron did a project on murder-suicides, which prompted police to take him in for a mental health evaluation, Gramaglia said. Gendron was released after an evaluation, he said.
The evaluation is not a voluntary commitment, so it would not have prevented the suspected shooter from buying or possessing a gun under federal law, said New York State Police spokesman Beau Duffy.
Now, the Broome County District Attorney’s Office is investigating that school threat incident and the suspect’s overall behavior, he said.
“We’re going back years into his behavior at that time, his relationship with his family, his relationship with the teachers and students at the school,” prosecutor Michael Korchak told CNN.
“It’s hard to say” whether more should have been done at the time of the threat, he added.
“So there have been no direct threats to any students or teachers,” Korchak said. “Individuals with mental health problems may have it under control for a period of time, and then one day they explode and tragedies like this happen.”
After the school threat, New York State Police officers did not seek “red flag” protection against Gendron, a state police spokeswoman told CNN on Tuesday.
The Red Flag law, known as the Extreme Risk Protection Act, was enacted on August 24, 2019, and is designed to prevent those who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from buying a gun, according to the state’s website. .
State police declined to elaborate on why they didn’t look for the red flag. “The threat was general in nature, not aimed at the school or anyone in particular, and did not specifically mention shootings or guns,” a law enforcement official told CNN.
Some doctors who determine someone is “at risk of engaging in behavior that could cause serious harm to self or others” are required to report it to a county health commissioner, who can report it to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which can prevent it. People are buying guns and getting gun permits revoked, a former senior official at the state Office of Mental Health told CNN this week.
Federal law prohibits someone involuntarily committed to a mental health facility from purchasing a firearm, officials said. It does not cover someone in a mental institution “for observation,” the official said.
Gov. Hochul signed an executive order Wednesday requiring state police to file an extreme risk order of protection under the state’s Red Flag Act when they believe someone is a threat to themselves or others.
“The current law is an option to do so, and now it will be a requirement,” the governor said at a news conference. “We will provide the necessary guidelines and standards for law enforcement to follow, and together we believe these steps are necessary to combat the growing hatred and white supremacy in our state.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Gendron’s plea. He has pleaded not guilty.