A White teenager suspected of killing 10 people in a racially motivated shooting rampage at a Buffalo grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood was known to authorities for a violent-threats probe more than a year ago.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told reporters Sunday that the suspect submitted to a mental-health evaluation and was released after a day and a half.
Payton Gendron, 18, surrendered to law enforcement on Saturday at the grocery store following the incident, which officials were calling “racially motivated violent extremism.”
Mr. Gendron reportedly also publicized a racist manifesto online. Of the 13 people hit by gun rounds, 11 were Black and two White.
Officials from a local high school in Broome County on June 8, 2021, called law enforcement and told them Mr. Gendron had threatened violence in comments made to fellow students, the Buffalo News reported.
“A school official reported that this very troubled young man had made statements indicating that he wanted to do a shooting, either at a graduation ceremony, or sometime after,” the same government official familiar with the case told The News.
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State Police investigated Mr. Gendron under a provision of state mental-health laws, and he was referred for a mental health evaluation and counseling, the official said.
Despite State Police involvement in his case, Mr. Gendron was not criminally charged.
According to Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, his county was not aware of Mr. Gendron‘s danger when he drove three hours across the state from Conklin to Buffalo.
“I don’t know what happened in Broome County, I can tell you that here in Buffalo, he was never on our radar. We never had any advance warnings and or notice on him. The FBI did not as well,” Mr. Flynn told Fox News.
“But there’s been this allegation, obviously, in Broome County, that we’ll look into, but I don’t have any knowledge on that. I was not privy to that at all, because it occurred some 300 miles away,” Mr. Flynn said.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told ABC News on Sunday that an investigation would zero in on what could have prevented Mr. Gendron, since he made public his views on the internet and authorities were previously in contact with him.
“I want to know what people knew and when they knew it,” she said.
Mrs. Hochul, who noted that the shooter legally purchased the firearm but bought in Pennsylvania a magazine that exceeds New York’s legal capacity limit, said she already had planned to announce a new gun-control package this week before Saturday’s shooting.
“On Tuesday, in Albany, we had already planned to be announcing a comprehensive gun package to address further loopholes that exist in our laws,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure that our laws are tight. They’re ironclad to ensure that our law enforcement has the resources they need.”
New York state is home to some of the country’s most stringent gun control laws and gun-rights organizations are questioning why law enforcement did not act sooner if they were aware of Mr. Gendron.
“We all mourn the senseless deaths of Americans due to the hatred of this murderous individual. Unfortunately, politicians at the state and federal levels quickly jumped to the conclusion that more gun control would have prevented this act or others like it from happening in the future, without even considering that New York has some of the toughest gun laws on the books,” Gun Owners of America spokesman Stephen Willeford said in a statement.
Erich Pratt, GOA’s Senior Vice President accused “elected politicians” of “using this tragedy to attack the rights of law-abiding citizens, rather than taking the time to evaluate what happened and how this man, who was already known to law enforcement for previous threats, was able to carry out this heinous crime.
“Our elected officials must work to restore the rights of Americans so they may face this evil head-on if necessary,“ Mr. Pratt said.
The SAFE Act, adopted by the state in 2013, declares that it aims to “prevent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill” from buying guns and “cracks down on illegal guns and bans only the most dangerous assault weapons.”
New York state says its Red Flag Gun Protection law, adopted in 2019, intends to “prevent individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm.”
There also is the 110-year-old New York Sullivan Act, which mandates a license for every concealed handgun. This particular law is presently being challenged at the Supreme Court.
Under federal law, it is “unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.”
Peter Tilem, a New York-based attorney specializing in Second Amendment law, told The Washington Times that New York state officials did not use either of these laws that could have prevented Mr. Gendron from initially attaining a firearm.
“You have the new red flag laws in New York. They pass these red flag laws, because basically, if a school believes you’re a danger to yourself or others, they can go to a New York County, New York State Supreme Court judge, and they can basically get the person to be a prohibited person,” Mr. Tilem said.
“They can go get all those guns taken away from him. And they can prevent them from buying guns, and he would have been on the registry as a state prohibited person,” he said.
Mr. Tilem noted that the FBI knows when a state declares an individual to be a prohibited possessor of a firearm and will block firearms purchases regardless of whether the person is banned under federal law.
“The FBI has gotten very good about knowing who is state-prohibited or not. So I have a lot of people that are New York State prohibited that are not federally prohibited and they can’t buy guns,” he said.
New York officials may have had another option to ensure that the suspect would have been unable to arm himself legally if health care officials involuntarily committed Mr. Gendron.
“If he was committed to a mental institution involuntarily, then automatically, until they were certain that he was not a danger to himself and others, then he would have been in the SAFE Act registry,” Mr. Tilem said.
• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Peter Tilem’s last name.