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Happening: This is Not a Drill

On May 14, 2022 Payton S. Gendron walked into Tops Friendly Market and opened fire with the single goal of killing as many Black people as he could. He was armed with an AR-15 and had 2 more weapons in his vehicle just steps away from the entrance of the supermarket. Written on his weapon was the derogatory N word, along with the names of White people who had been killed by Black people. What drove an 18 year old man growing up in the suburbs to commit such a massacre?

According to neighbors there was no indication that there was anything out of the ordinary going on in the home of Paul and Pamela Gendron from what they could see. In addition to Payton they had two other sons and lived a fairly modest life. There was no indication of any domestic or family violence. There is no record of drug or alcohol abuse and there were no complaints or signs of child abuse. So where did it all go wrong?

In 2021 it is reported that Gendron started exhibiting odd behavior in class. Specifically, there was a time period when classes resumed in person where he showed up to class after the COVID-19 lock down dressed in a hazmat suit. Classmate Nathan Twitchell told The New York Times “He wore the entire suit: boots, gloves, everything. For a week”.

Gendron did not show up on the radar of law enforcement until June 8th, 2021 when New York State Police responded to a generalized threat at Susquehanna Valley Central High School. State police responded to investigate a “threatening statement” made by a 17-year-old student. Gendron was taken into custody and hospitalized for evaluation but he was never arrested or charged. Just 7 months later in January 2022 Gendron took to his Discord account, which is a private chat platform similar to WhatsApp, and addressed his hospitalization. He said that he was hospitalized because in his post-graduation project he mentioned “murder/suicide”. He also goes on to talk about how the evaluation only last 15 minutes.

It was during the month of January 2022 that Gendron began uploading pictures and videos to his Discord account which at the time was only visible to him. One of the videos that he uploaded in March 2020 he goes into graphic detail about stabbing and beheading a feral cat. Gendron talked about how the feral cat was attacking his domestic cat. He recounted how he chased the cat around his garage for upwards of 45 minutes stabbing it. He then took a hatchet and it took him 20 swings to behead the cat. That is his first documented act of violence.

While planning his attack Gendron researched the areas with high populations of Black people and he settled on Buffalo, NY. He chose the zip code 14208 because of the areas he was considering attacking, it was the area with the highest population of Black people. According to the Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey the zip code 14208 was 78% Black. CNN reported he was considering churches and schools but ultimately decided on Tops Friendly Market. Gendron posted on Discord that he had surveilled the grocery store on numerous occasions but had not yet decided on a specific date.

On one occasion Gendron walked into the supermarket and had an exchange with a produce manager Rose Wysocki. According to The Washington Post just before Easter Gendron approached Wysocki and told her she didn’t belong there, she belonged in the suburbs. According to Wysocki when she told him that she loved working at her store Gendron responded calling her “an N-word lover.”

Just a few weeks later on May 14, 2022 Gendron would make the 3 and a half hours, 200 mile drive from Conklin, NY to Buffalo, NY heavily armed and wearing tactical gear with the sole purpose of killing as many Black people as he could. 30 minutes before the attack he invited at least 30 people to watch his live stream he titled “Happening: This is Not a Drill” on the streaming platform Twitch. At the time of the shooting there were 15 people viewing him in real time drive up to Tops Friendly Market, get out of his vehicle and begin his deadly, hate fueled rampage. In the video you can see Gendron hunting and targeting Black patrons of the supermarket. At one point in the video he points his weapon at a White patron who was seeing shelter on the floor and apologizes to him just before going back to shoot more Black individuals.

By the time police and first responders arrived 13 people were shot. 11 of those 13 were Black. 10 people were killed. According to police they have evidence that when Gendron was finished at the supermarket he planned to attack another location; however it has not been disclosed where. On May 14, the same day at the attack Payton Gendron was charged with first degree murder. According to the US Department of Justice they will be investigating this as a hate crime.


Tara Brown


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