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For more than six months, authorities have said the May 14 mass shooting at Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue was carried out by a white supremacist bent on a racist rampage.

On Monday, prosecutors for the first time laid out the sequence of events that day and underscored the shooter’s reason for choosing his victims by saying a variation of the same four words: Because they were Black.

The self-proclaimed white supremacist who meticulously planned and then carried out the mass murder of 10 Black people at the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue pleaded guilty Monday morning to 15 charges against him, guaranteeing he will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In the courtroom Monday, Assistant District Attorney Noha A. Elnakib laid out the horrific details of the rampage as family members in the gallery held each other, closed their eyes and shed tears. No audio or video was allowed of the proceeding, so Erie County District Attorney John Flynn reiterated what was said at a news conference just after the pleas were entered:

“I will articulate to the world now, what the truth is and what we have and why he pled guilty today,” Flynn told a room packed with local and national news reporters.

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Erie County District Attorney John Flynn describes the 15 charges that Tops gunman Payton Gendron pleaded guilty to during proceedings in State Supreme Court on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022.

The assault was caught on video from security cameras at Tops, prosecutors said. The shooter, Payton Gendron, chose the location because it was in a ZIP code he had identified as having the highest concentration of Black people in upstate New York. He also had a camera mounted to his combat helmet, which he used to livestream the attack on the social media site Twitch.

The families of the victims of the May 14 massacre at the Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue felt rage and disgust toward Payton Gendron as he pleaded guilty to killing 10 people and wounding three others – but also for the racism and hatred entrenched in America that allowed it to happen.

The shooting began just before 2:30 p.m. May 14 when he drove up in front of the entrance of the Tops at 1275 Jefferson Ave.

He was dressed from head to toe in military tactical gear and armed with an assault rifle that had been illegally modified to carry a 30-round magazine, Flynn said.

He began singling out victims immediately.

His first victim was Roberta Drury, 32 who was walking by in the parking lot. He shot her twice in the head. The defendant did this, Elnakib said in court, “because Roberta Drury was Black.”

Pam Young, whose mother, Pearl, was murdered in the racist May 14 attack at Tops, urges America to “park here” and reflect on the problem of systemic racism.

Just seconds later, he shot Heywood Patterson, 68, a jitney driver who was standing next to the trunk of a vehicle. He shot him twice in the torso and once in his right arm.

“The defendant did this because Heyward Patterson was Black,” Elnakib said.

Then, Gendron began firing at the front windows of Tops as he approached the store and then shot Zaire Goodman. Goodman, 20, survived. His mother, Zeneta Everhart, previously said he was shot in the back of the neck and continues to recover from the injury. He was shot, Elnakib said, because he was Black.

Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman, a Tops worker, was shot by Gendron but survived, told reporters she thought Payton Gendron was “nonchalant” in addressing his actions in court.

The video from Gendron’s helmet camera recorded screams and a scene of confusion as he went into the store, prosecutors said.

Just at the entrance, he encountered Pearl Young, 77, who he shot multiple times in the head and elsewhere on her body. She was killed because she was Black, Elnakib said.

Ruth Whitfield, 86, and Celestine Chaney, 65, were by a wall display between the front door and the registers when Gendron shot them. He shot Whitfield multiple times in her torso and shot Chaney multiple times in her head and torso. He shot them because they were Black, Elnakib said.

Garnell Whitfield, whose mother Ruth Whitfield was among the ten murder victims in the racist Tops attack on May 14, shares his experience battling cancer to draw a comparison to what needs to be done to battle white supremacy in America during a press conference today after the Tops gunman pleaded guilty to the indictment.

“It was at this point that the defendant encountered Aaron Salter, a retired Buffalo Police officer who was working as a store’s security guard,” Flynn told reporters. “Aaron was armed, but he only had a 9 mm pistol. He returned fire on the defendant who was armed with a high capacity weapon and protected by body armor,” Flynn said.

As Salter fired on Gendron, Gendron retreated and then reloaded his magazine before shooting Salter multiple times “in the body and head.” He did this because Aaron Salter was African American, Flynn said.

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As Salter engaged Gendron in the front of the store, shoppers and workers had time to flee out the back of the supermarket to safety.

“I know the mayor has said this multiple times, but Aaron Salter was a true hero that afternoon,” Flynn said.

Flynn also noted that the shots Gendron fired during the gun battle with Salter were the only ones he missed. The others were aimed at and hit the victims.

Gendron also shot two other people who survived, Flynn said. One was Jennifer Warrington, a pharmacist who was working in the store’s pharmacy. He also shot a store manager, Christopher Braden, near the registers.

Elnakib and Flynn both said that after Braden was wounded, Gendron approached him, but then said, “I’m sorry,” and moved on, letting him live.

“The defendant did this because Christopher Braden is a white person, thus further demonstrating the defendant’s racially motivated attack of Black people,” Elnakib said in court.

Gendron began going through the aisles, searching for more victims.

The parents of the 19-year-old who pleaded guilty to domestic terrorism and murder charges on Monday issued their first public statement since the May 14 attack.

He found Andre Mackneil, 53, as he tried to hide under a cash register, shooting him in the head, neck and torso because he “was a Black person,” Elnakib said.

The gunman shot and killed Margus Morrison, 52, in an aisle, shooting him in the torso, because he was Black.

Then he found Katherine Massey, 72, in an aisle, and shot her in the head.

“The defendant did this because Katherine Massey was a Black person,” Elnakib said.

Mark Talley, who lost his mother, Geraldine Talley, in the racist attack at Tops on May 14, shares his anger toward inherent racial disparity in the judicial system and society at large. He spoke during a press conference following the guilty plea of the Tops gunman to a 15-count indictment including charges of domestic terrorism.

The final victim was Geraldine Talley, 62. Gendron shot her in the head.

“The defendant did this because Geraldine Talley was a Black person,” Elnakib said.

Gendron came back outside at the front of the store, where he was confronted by three Buffalo police officers who took him into custody.

Hearing those details was gut-wrenching for the families.

Pam Young, daughter of Pearl Young, said she plans to address the court at Payton Gendron’s sentencing in February.

Pam Young, the daughter of Pearl Young, said she had held onto hope that her mother had died instantly. 

“But that’s not what I heard today. What I heard was that she was shot a couple times before the fatal shot. What do you think? How does that make me feel? Now, I’ve got to go back and relive six months of what I thought, and now it’s changed,” she told reporters.

Everhart, Goodman’s mother, said she didn’t know any of the details of the massacre until Monday. She didn’t know her son was the third person to be shot.

“I haven’t watched the news since this happened. I haven’t read a newspaper article. And so a lot of the details I didn’t know. And then to hear Zaire’s name spoken out loud. That was …  that was hard. That was a hard pill to swallow. Because it just brings back that day all over again.”

Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney representing some of the families, said it was difficult, but important, for the details of the massacre to be finally discussed.

“People need to see the picture of hate. You cannot say that it’s not real, not reality in America. It is reality,” Crump said. “We’ve got to keep talking about exactly what he did in that video over and over in hopes that it won’t come to your community next.”

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I’ve worked at The Buffalo News since 2005. I previously worked as a reporter at the New York Daily News and the Charlotte Observer and was a special correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

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