The gunman who killed 10 people and injured three more in a racist mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket last year was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison without parole. The sentencing came during a tense hearing in which someone in the audience rushed at the gunman and was restrained by a court officer.
“There can be no mercy for you, no understanding, no second chances,” said Judge Susan Eagan while delivering the sentence in court. “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.”
Payton Gendron, a white supremacist from Conklin, New York, who was 18 years old at the time of the massacre, appeared in Erie County Court to receive the expected sentence after pleading guilty in November to all state charges brought against him, which included multiple counts of murder in the first degree and an additional count of domestic terrorism motivated by hate. The terrorism charge carries an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The gunman, now 19, had initially pleaded not guilty to the state charges as well as federal charges announced several months after the shooting. The federal charges — 14 counts for hate crimes either resulting in death or involving an attempt to kill, and another 13 for using a firearm while carrying out a hate crime — carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty, should the U.S. Department of Justice decide to seek it. A 27-count indictment brought a federal grand jury also included special findings alleging that the gunman “committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation to commit an act of terrorism,” according to the Justice Department.
The shooter’s guilty plea on state charges may reduce the likelihood of capital punishment. After the plea was entered during a hearing last fall, Gendron’s defense attorney, Brian Parker, said the outcome “represents a condemnation” of the racist and white supremacist ideologies that motivated his attack in the spring.
On May 14, 2022, Gendron opened fire outside, and then inside, of a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, intentionally targeting victims “because of the perceived race and/or color of such person or persons,” the grand jury alleged in a 25-count indictment on state charges issued the following summer. Prosecutors, victims’ families and community members say the massacre was calculated, and fueled by white supremacy and extremist conspiracy theories that the gunman clearly held and engaged with online. Each of the individuals fatally shot by Gendron was Black, as was one of the three individuals who sustained injuries in the attack.
The gunman wore bullet-resistant armor and a helmet as he carried out the shooting using a semiautomatic rifle that investigators said was purchased legally, but modified so that it could hold high-capacity magazines that are not legal in New York. Gendron live-streamed the attack with a camera strapped to his helmet.
An extensive series of documents posted online and attributed to Gendron, which is considered a racist and white supremacist manifesto, outlined plans for the mass shooting as a means to preserve white power and mentioned the Tops supermarket specifically because of its location in a predominantly Black neighborhood. The gunman had traveled some 200 miles from his hometown to carry out the massacre.
The dead were identified as: Celestine Chaney, 65; Roberta A. Drury, 32; Andre Mackniel, 53; Katherine Massey, 72; Margus D. Morrison, 52; Heyward Patterson, 67; Geraldine Talley, 62; Ruth Whitfield, 86; and Pearl Young, 77. Many of their family members appeared in the courtroom in Erie County on Wednesday morning to deliver victim impact statements before Gendron and the judge.
“Kat was intelligent,” said Barbara Massey, the sister of Katherine Massey, in emotional remarks about her sibling and the attack. “She was a teacher. She was my best friend. She was anything at any given time. Cat was a protector.”
Toward the end of her statement, a man rose from his seat in the courtroom and charged at Gendron, who was quickly surrounded by law enforcement officers and temporarily rushed outside. Attendees rose up from their seats as shouting briefly filled the courtroom. The gunman was escorted back into court several minutes later, and the proceedings continued.
A statement from Gendron was also read aloud in court toward the end of Wednesday’s hearing.
“I did a terrible thing that day,” the statement read in part. “I know I can’t take it back, but I wish I could, and I don’t want anyone to be inspired by me or what I did.”