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New York suspect in racist shooting was questioned after threat last year

Buffalo (New York), May 15

A white teenager who killed 10 people in a racist attack at a western New York grocery store in a Black neighborhood had been taken into custody last year and given a mental health evaluation after making a threat at his high school, authorities said.

New details, including the previous threat, emerged on Sunday that provided a fuller portrait of the suspect, Payton Gendron, 18, and his assault on a Buffalo supermarket that authorities described as an act of “racially motivated violent extremism.”

“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake this is an absolute racist hate crime that will be prosecuted as a hate crime,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told reporters on Sunday.

Gendron surrendered to police after Saturday’s shooting of 13 people, 11 of whom were Black. He has been charged with first-degree murder – which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole in New York – and has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities said on Sunday Gendron had driven to Buffalo from his home, several hours away, a day before the attack to do “reconnaissance” on the area. On Saturday afternoon, he drove to the Tops Friendly Market, where he commenced an assault that he broadcast in real time on the social media platform Twitch, a live video service owned by Amazon.com.

Dressed in tactical gear, Gendron opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle that he had purchased legally, but then modified illegally. Authorities found two other guns – a rifle and a shotgun – in his car.

Gramaglia told reporters that Gendron had appeared on the radar of local law enforcement last June, when police detained him after he made a “generalised” threat at his high school.

Gendron was given a mental health evaluation at the time, but was released after a day and a half.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul told ABC News on Sunday an investigation would focus on what could have been done to stop the teenager, who appeared to have advertised a slew of violent, racist views online.

“I want to know what people knew and when they knew it,” she said.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will visit Buffalo on Tuesday, the White House said in a statement.

“Our hearts are heavy once again but our resolve must not waver; we must work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of this nation,” Biden said in a Twitter post.

A 180-page manifesto that circulated online, believed to have been authored by Gendron, outlined: “The Great Replacement Theory” – a racist conspiracy theory that white people are being replaced by minorities in the United States and other countries.

Another document online that appeared to have been written by Gendron sketched out a to-do list for the attack, including cleaning the gun and testing the livestream.

Stephen Belongia, the FBI special agent in-charge of the bureau’s Buffalo field office, said the attack would be investigated both as a hate crime and as an act of “racially motivated violent extremism” under federal law.

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