By AYA ELAMROUSSI, ARTEMIS MOSHTAGHIAN and ROB FREHSE
Thirty minutes before an 18-year-old White man allegedly carried out a racist mass shooting Saturday at a supermarket in a mostly Black enclave of Buffalo, New York, he revealed his months-long plot to some on social media.
Payton S. Gendron – suspected of killing 10 people and wounding three – 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.”
After Gendron invited people to join, his previously private chat room posts would have been accessible to invitees and anyone they may have shared access with, the spokesperson told CNN.
In the posts – eventually shared more widely on the hate-filled 4chan online forum – the alleged gunman wrote he visited the supermarket three times March 8 to survey its layout. He also wrote he used Google’s graph feature for a location’s “popular times” to determine the busiest times at the store.
Among the posts, which run from mid-November to May, Gendron wrote he chose the ZIP code in Buffalo because it was the one with the greatest percentage of Black people that’s relatively near his home in Conklin, New York. The 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 anyone invited to view the logs alerted moderators to the posts.
4Chan has not responded to CNN’s requests for comment about Gendron’s posts being shared on the platform.
The shooting targeting the supermarket in the heart of a predominantly Black community is being investigated as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism, authorities said, noting 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 shoppers, all ages 32 to 86.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families,” the Discord spokesperson said. “Hate has no place on Discord and we are committed to combating violence and extremism.”
Gendron has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder, officials said, noting additional charges are forthcoming.
Suspect’s social media footprint key to probe
Since the shooting, the suspect’s online trail has revealed details about his plans for the attack. And officials have followed his digital footprint to piece together his motives.
First, Gendron chose a grocery store as 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 took note of how many Black and White people were there each time he visited on March 8 and drew a map of the store’s interior, 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 livestreamed his moves, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said.
Officials are also examining a 180-page racist document they say was written by Gendron and posted online shortly before the shooting. In it, the suspect confesses to the attack 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.
Discord, 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 feel of early AOL chat rooms or work chat app Slack with the chaotic, personalized world of MySpace and is known for its video game communities.
Previous school threat under investigation
Another warning sign may have been a threat he made in June when he was a student at Susquehanna Valley Central High School in Conklin, Gramaglia said.
Gendron made a project on murder-suicides, which prompted police to take him for a mental health evaluation, Gramaglia said. Gendron was released after the evaluation, he said.
The evaluation was not an involuntary commitment, so it would not have prevented the suspected shooter from purchasing or possessing a gun under federal law, said New York State Police spokesperson Beau Duffy.
Now, the Broome County District Attorney’s Office is investigating that school threat incident, as well as the suspect’s overall behavior, he said.
“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,” prosecutor Michael Korchak told CNN.
It’s “hard to say” whether more should have been done at the time of the threat was made, he added.
“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, was enacted on August 24, 2019, and is designed to prevent anyone who shows signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing a firearm, according to the state website.
State police declined to go into detail about why they did not seek the red flag. “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 law enforcement official told CNN.
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, a former senior official in the state Office of Mental Health told CNN this week.
Federal law prohibits someone involuntarily committed to a mental health institution from buying a gun, the official said. It doesn’t cover someone in a mental institution “for observation,” the official said.
The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.