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Buffalo shooting suspect indicted on charges related to massacre at Tops supermarket

Payton Gendron was led into the courtroom for a hearing, facing charges related to a fatal mass shooting in Buffalo less than a week ago, which authorities have said was racially motivated.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

BUFFALO — Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old charged in connection with the killing of 10 people at a supermarket here less than a week ago, has been indicted by a grand jury and remains in custody after a brief court appearance Thursday.

Authorities say Gendron, an alleged white supremacist, targeted the Tops supermarket in a largely Black neighborhood because of the hatred he harbored for minorities, fueled by an obsession with false theories about replacing white people that proliferate on the Internet. He has pleaded not guilty.

“Payton, you’re a coward!” a person in the courtroom gallery yelled as Gendron, who is being held without bail, was led back to a holding area, handcuffed and shackled and wearing bright orange jail scrubs. Relatives of victims were seated in the courtroom.

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New York law says prosecutors must quickly indict a defendant who is in custody after a felony arrest, generally within five days, in order for the person to remain in pre-trial detention. In the absence of an indictment, a judge can override the statutory deadline after a hearing.

On Thursday, prosecutor Gary Hackbush told Buffalo City Court Chief Judge Craig D. Hannah that an Erie County grand jury had "voted an indictment against the defendant Payton Gendron."

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn released a statement later, clarifying that the grand jury presentation is not complete. The panel is hearing evidence in a proceeding that is closed to the public, and could vote to indict Gendron on additional counts.

Gendron is scheduled to return to court June 9, when his arraignment on an indictment could be scheduled. Prosecutors did not disclose what count or counts have been considered by the panel so far.

Police say Gendron traveled three hours from his home in Conklin, N.Y., to target Black people with his Bushmaster XM-15 rifle. He is believed to have posted a screed online that revealed a paranoid obsession with a racist conspiracy theory claiming white Americans are intentionally being replaced by non-white immigrants.

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The shooting victims included elderly patrons and a retired Buffalo police officer working as a security guard at the store. Authorities say the officer, Aaron Salter Jr., died trying to stop the rampage.

The Justice Department is also investigating the killings as a possible hate crime.

Thursday’s hearing was held in a basement courtroom at Erie County Court. Several relatives of the victims were in attendance.

After passing through metal detectors to enter the courthouse, spectators wanting to attend the hearing were screened by K-9 dogs before going into the courtroom.

At the Gendron home in Conklin on Wednesday, days after the property in a quiet neighborhood of lush, sprawling lawns near Binghamton was searched by the FBI, no one answered the door. The driveway was empty except for a portable basketball hoop anchored by sandbags.

On the front porch was a round cement weight that appeared to be a remnant of Gendron’s preschool days. The weight, which was holding down one corner of a mat, had a mold of a tiny right hand and a quarter-size heart etched next to the thumb. “PAYTON” and “2008″ were impressed above and below the handprint.

At dismissal time at Susquehanna Valley High School, where Gendron graduated last year, students poured into a parking lot behind a long stretch of fencing adorned with a message expressing support for the shooting victims. Nearby, at the Conklin Reliable Market, a roadside sign read, "Prayers for the people of Buffalo: United in sorrow."

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Gendron worked at the store from July to September 2021 and was seen by his co-workers as an introvert, said owner John Gage, who said he did not recall his former employee having any altercations with others in the store.

Gage said Gendron gave his two weeks’ notice last year without much discussion, except a mention that he was quitting to go to school. He enrolled at SUNY Broome Community College, where a spokeswoman has said his enrollment officially ended in March.

Gage said the Conklin community is tolerant — stressing that Gendron’s alleged racism does not reflect the feelings of most people in the town.

“I feel 100 percent… for the people who have gone through this,” the 53-year-old business owner said. “Our community and God is watching over them, and hopefully it will comfort them.”