Authorities called the shooting at the Tops Friendly Market a “hate crime and racially motived violent extremism.”
Buffalo police commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said at a press conference that the suspect is an 18-year-old white male who is not from the local community and who had livestreamed the incident online.
The suspect walked into the store and began engaging customers at the store. One of the individuals inside the store was a retired Buffalo police officer working as a security guard. The security guard engaged the suspect, fired multiple shots, and struck the suspect, but the suspect had heavy armor plating on.
The suspect engaged the retired officer who was ultimately shot and died at the scene. Gramaglia called the security guard “a hero in our eyes.”
Three people sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
The supermarket is about 3 miles north of downtown Buffalo. The surrounding area is primarily residential, with a Family Dollar and fire station near the store.
Braedyn Kephart and Shane Hill, both 20, pulled into the parking lot just as the shooter was exiting. They described him as a male in his late teens or early twenties sporting full camo, a black helmet, and what appeared to be a rifle.
“He was standing there with the gun to his chin. We were like, what the heck is going on? Why does this kid have a gun to his face?” Kephart said. He dropped to his knees. “He ripped off his helmet, dropped his gun, and was tackled by the police.”
Police closed off the block, lined by onlookers, and yellow police tape surrounded the full parking lot. Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz were at the scene late Saturday afternoon, gathered in a parking lot across the street from the Tops store.
“The shooter was not from this community. In fact, the shooter traveled hours from outside this community to perpetrate this crime on the people of Buffalo,” Brown told reporters.
More than two hours after the shooting, Erica Pugh-Mathews was waiting outside the store, behind the police tape.
“We would like to know the status of my aunt, my mother’s sister. She was in there with her fiance. They separated and went to different aisles,” she said. “A bullet barely missed him. He was able to hide in a freezer but he was not able to get to my aunt and does not know where she is. We just would like word either way if she’s OK.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul wrote on Twitter that she was “closely monitoring the shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo,” her hometown. She said state officials have offered help to local authorities. The Erie County Sheriff’s Office said on social media that it ordered all available personnel to assist Buffalo police.
Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting, Justice Department spokesperson Anthony Coley said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that President Joe Biden has been briefed on the incident by Homeland Security.
“He will continue to receive updates throughout the evening and tomorrow as further information develops. The president and the first lady are praying for those who have been lost and for their loved ones,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.