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Buffalo grocery mass shooter gets life in prison at tense sentencing hearing for racist attack

10 Black people were killed in the May 14 shooting at Tops Friendly Markets. The gunman said he carried out the attack “for the future of the White race,” according to a complaint.
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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The 19-year-old white gunman who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo grocery store last year was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole at an emotional hearing that was briefly interrupted when a man charged toward him.

The dramatic moment came as the sister of victim Katherine Massey addressed the shooter, Payton Gendron, ahead of his sentencing for the May 14 racist massacre at Tops Friendly Markets.

“You don’t know a damn thing about Black people. We’re human. We like our kids to go to good schools. We love our kids. We never go to no neighborhoods to take people out,” Barbara Massey told the gunman.

As she continued to address the shooter, a man in a gray jogging suit ran toward Gendron, who was rushed out of the courtroom. Authorities surrounded the unidentified man, leading to a short break.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said the man would not be charged, telling reporters at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that he understands emotions were high during the sentencing.

Gunman says he 'killed people because they were Black'

Erie County Judge Susan Eagan spoke about the tense moment after everyone returned to the courtroom.

“I am sure that you are all disturbed by the physicality that we've seen in the courtroom here today. I understand that emotion. And I understand that anger. But we cannot have that in the courtroom,” she said.

“We must conduct ourselves appropriately, because we are all better than that,” Eagan added.

Victim statements then resumed.

Christopher Braden, who was shot in the leg, said the massacre altered his life. He was one of three people injured in the attack.

Braden said he has post-traumatic stress disorder, and that he has had four operations and still has two more to go.

“Your actions completely changed my life. ... I have night terrors that jerk me awake in the middle of the night. It takes me 15 minutes to get out of bed,” he said.

Gendron also addressed the court, apologizing to the victims and telling the world that he did not want anyone to be inspired by him.

“I did a terrible thing that day. I shot and killed people because they were Black. Looking back now, I can’t believe I actually did it. I believed what I read online and acted out the hate, and now I can’t take it back, but I wish I could,” he said.

'There can be no mercy for you,' judge tells shooter

Gendron’s apology was little consolation for the relatives of Massey, Ruth Whitfield, Pearly Young, Roberta Drury, Heyward Patterson, Celestine Chaney, Andre Mackneil, Margus Morrison, Geraldine Talley and Tops security guard Aaron Salter, the people who died in the shooting.

“You don't mean none of that s---,” a woman yelled.

Buffalo shooting victims
Nine of the 10 people killed in a shooting at a Buffalo supermarket. Top, from left, Katherine Massey, Aaron Salter, Pearly Young, Ruth Whitfield and Celestine Chaney. Bottom, Heyward Patterson, Roberta Drury, Andre (Elliott) Mackneil and Margus Morrison.

Through tears, Eagan thanked the victims and their families for sharing their thoughts with the court.

“It is very meaningful to me, and I believe that it is important for the defendant and the world to hear what you have to say,” she said.

In handing down the sentence, Eagan spoke to Gendron directly.

“There is no place for you or your ignorant, hateful and evil ideologies in a civilized society. There can be no mercy for you, no understanding, no second chances. The damage you have caused is too great, and the people you have hurt are too valuable to this community. You will never see the light of day as a free man ever again,” she said. 

More coverage of the Buffalo grocery mass shooting

Flynn, the DA, said he believes justice was served Wednesday.

"I would characterize what happened today as the end of the beginning. That while what happened today was a legal closure to the criminal proceeding … it certainly was not any closure on what we need to do as a society and as a community going forward,” he said at the post-sentencing news conference.

He added: “I would say that justice was done with a small ‘j’ today. But we still have a big 'J' of justice to do. … Swift justice was needed, and swift justice was done.”

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said “white supremacy is a cancer” and commented on other mass shootings that have happened across the country.

“There’s a lot more work to be done, not just in this community, but all across America,” he said.

A lingering unease in Buffalo

Authorities said Gendron was dressed in tactical gear when he unleashed a flurry of bullets in the parking lot of Tops. He streamed the attack on the social media platform Twitch before the stream was taken down.

He fatally shot three people and wounded one in the parking lot before he entered the store, where Salter confronted him. Officials said that Salter’s rounds did not appear to penetrate Gendron’s ballistic gear and that the gunman shot and killed the security guard before he shot others.

A document Gendron posted online claimed he had been radicalized and appeared to adhere to the “false replacement” theory, which white killers have used to justify violence against Muslims, Latinos and Jewish people around the world.

Brown, the mayor, said Gendron lived hours away and drove to the city to commit the crime. The document said he chose Buffalo because it was the city with the most Black residents closest to his home. Thirteen people — 11 Black people and two white people — were shot.

Gendron also faces 27 federal counts, including murder, discharging a firearm and hate crimes. If he is convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison or the death penalty. The attorney general will decide whether to seek the death penalty, the Justice Department said in a news release. Gendron pleaded not guilty in July.

Tops Friendly Markets reopened in July after extensive renovations.

Marcus Morris, 27, of east Buffalo, said he had to pray before he got out of his vehicle and walked into the store Tuesday for the first time. Margus Morrison, his uncle, was among the 10 people killed.

“Your chest definitely gets a little heavy just pulling in. I sat in the car and said a little prayer before I got out for all the victims, especially my uncle,” Morris said.

“You can’t not think about it when going in there,” he added.