The racist killer who took the lives of ten Black people and wounded three others in a Buffalo grocery store will spend the rest of his life behind bars, nearly a year after he blindsided a community he targeted in a deluded attempt to start a race war.
Erie County (N.Y.) Court Judge Susan Eagan sentenced Peyton Gendron, 19, to life without the possibility of parole for the May 14, 2022 murders at a Tops supermarket on the city’s east side as they went about doing their normal daily food shopping.
“You will never see the light of day as a free man ever again,” said Eagan, as she passed judgment for his first degree murder convictions on each count. Gendron did not respond as he stood for his sentencing.
The New York state sentencing remains separate from the 27 federal hate crimes charges that Gendron still faces and for which he will still stand trial. He is expected to be transferred into federal custody Thursday (Feb. 16), Erie County prosecutor John J. Flynn said at a press conference. Under federal prosecution, he could be subject to the death penalty.
Several of the relatives of the victims gave impact statements before the sentencing, but while Barbara Massey, sister of victim Katherine Massey was giving hers, an unidentified family member lunged at Gendron, but was stopped by courtroom security.
“You will be nameless and faceless and we feel sorry for you,” said Simone Crowley, granddaughter of Ruth Whitfield, one of the ten fatalities. “Your life was meaningless before May 14, 2022…You thought you broke us, but you awakened us. We are here to tell you that you failed.”
Wayne Jones, whose mother Celestine Chaney also died in the massacre, told Gendron during the hearing that he feels sorry for his parents. “You will never get to hug them again. You will never get to see your grandparents," he said in the courtroom. "I hope they keep you alive so you have to suffer for the rest of your life."
However, in a statement of his own, Gendron apologized to the victims and their families in an attempt to be remorseful, acknowledge his actions, and noted that he was influenced by the Internet.
“I did a terrible thing that day. I shot and killed people because they were Black. Looking back now, I can’t believe I actually did it. I believed what I read online and acted out of hate and now I can’t take it back, but I wish I could. I don’t want anyone to be inspired by me and what I did.”
Gendron, who lived in Conklin, N.Y., drove three hours to the Tops supermarket on Buffalo’s east side specifically because it was a largely Black area where he could do maximum damage. He was attempting to inspire a race war according to the federal criminal complaint, and was driven by racist online rhetoric, which showed that he had planned the attack for months.
Streaming the violence online, he randomly walked up to four Black people in the supermarket’s parking lot armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and shot them at point-blank range, killing three of them instantly, then walked into the store and killed seven others including a retired Buffalo police officer who shot at him, but could not penetrate his body armor. Gendron wounded three others in the rampage before he was captured and arrested.
The names of those killed are as follows:
- Celestine Chaney, 65
- Roberta Drury, 32
- Andre Mackniel, 53
- Katherine Massey, 72
- Margus Morrison, 52
- Heyward Patterson, 67
- Aaron Salter, 55
- Geraldine Talley, 62
- Ruth Whitfield, 86
After the shooting, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul attempted to scrutinize online platforms where racist extremism tends to manifest and later signed gun control measures including a ban on anyone younger than 21 purchasing semiautomatic weapons. Later in 2022, New York State Attorney General Letitia James released an investigative report outlining how online platforms played a role in the shooting.
But federal gun legislation remains elusive. A measure that passed the house after the Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex., shootings did not pass in the Senate. Meanwhile mass shootings continue throughout the nation. In 2023 alone 71 mass shootings have taken place, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.
After the sentencing though, Flynn did note that the guilty party did see justice, something different from so many mass shooting cases that end in a suicide.
“Swift justice was done. Not only was it swift, it was just,” said Flynn. “It was just in the sense that he pled guilty to every charge. He pled guilty, for the first time in the history of New York State, to the domestic terrorism charge motivated by hate.”