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Tops Markets shooter chose AR-15 to stoke controversy

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Tops shooting aftermath

Police maintain a perimeter around the Tops Friendly Markets on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo as the investigation continues Sunday, May 15, 2022. 

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Payton Gendron said he decided to use an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in his killing spree both for its effectiveness and potential to generate controversy.

“The AR-15 and its variants are very deadly when used properly,” Gendron, 18, wrote in a racist diatribe about his plan to shoot Black people in Buffalo. “Which is the reason why I picked one. High capacity magazines and ammunition that causes (enough) ballistic damage to kill effectively will be used.”

After shooting the security guard at a Tops supermarket, Gendron wrote, he would use the AR-15 to “shoot all black people twice in the chest if possible.”

Law enforcement officials have told The Buffalo News they believe the diatribe to be authentic. 

Gendron bought the rifle, he wrote, at Vintage Firearms in Endicott, a town about 20 miles from where he lived.

In a phone call with The Buffalo News, the store’s owner, Robert Donald, confirmed a New York Times report that he sold the gun to Gendron within the past few months. When the store owner ran a background check on Gendron, he said, it came up clean.

The rifle complied with state laws banning military-type features at the time he sold it, Donald said.

A previous owner of the gun had modified the rifle to limit the magazine to 10 rounds, according to Gendron’s diatribe. Gendron used his father’s power drill to undo that modification.

“That’s right, I used the dreaded military grade assault rifle-15 as my main firearm for this attack,” he wrote in the 180-page document – 100 pages of which detailed his selection of guns and other equipment.

The specific AR-15 model he used, a Bushmaster XM-15, was the same one that a 20-year-old man used to kill 26 people a decade ago at Sandy Hook.

Remington Arms, the manufacturer of the Bushmaster, agreed in February to pay $73 million to families of several Sandy Hook victims – the first time a gun manufacturer has been held liable for a mass shooting.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, surrounded by the family of slain mother and grandmother Ruth Whitfield, promises to pursue a legal strategy that exposes the roots of the mass killings in Buffalo during a news conference at Durham Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.

The families had argued that Remington marketed to civilians what was essentially a military-style rifle.

“Marketing weapons of war directly to young people known to have a strong fascination with firearms is reckless and, as too many families know, deadly conduct,” Nicole Hockley, whose son was killed at Sandy Hook, said in a statement following an announcement about the company’s settlement with the families.

“Using marketing to convey that a person is more powerful or more masculine by using a particular type or brand of firearm is deeply irresponsible,” she said. 

Remington did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Sandy Hook was not the only time the Bushmaster was used in a mass killing. Four years ago, it was the model that a gunman used in Nashville, when he fatally shot four people in a Waffle House. Twenty years ago, it had been used in the Beltway sniper attacks, when 10 people were killed over a period of three weeks.

Gendron predicted that his choice of firearm would likely attract more attention to his crime.

“The media loves to hate on the AR-15, which may increase media coverage and public outlash,” he wrote.

A gun for Christmas

Gendron wrote that he planned to bring two other guns with him on Saturday: a Mossberg 500 shotgun and a Savage Axis XP rifle.

Police on Saturday said they spotted other firearms inside his vehicle, which would be in line with what he wrote.

Gendron bought the Mossberg 500 from Pennsylvania Guns and Ammo, a short drive from his house, in November 2020, when he would have been 17 years old, he wrote.

The Mossberg 500 was used by the U.S. military in the Gulf War in 1991, and later in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A few weeks after buying the Mossberg, he received the Savage Axis XP as a Christmas gift from his father, he wrote, so that he could go hunting. It is an inexpensive rifle sold in various retail sporting goods stores.

Gendron wrote that he planned to bring the Savage Axis XP as a backup, in case he ran out of ammunition for the other two guns.

'Trying to look cool'

Much of his diatribe reads like a guidebook for others he thought might want to commit a similar mass shooting, offering advice on which weapons are more effective, where to find the best prices, and how to most effectively modify them to kill efficiently.

He spent 37 pages describing, in great detail, various options for body armor. Twenty-four pages were devoted to debating the merits of various types of helmets, comparing prices and offering tips.

More than once, he noted preferences for weapons or clothing based on what he thought would look the best.

“If you aren’t trying to look cool, what the [expletive] are you even doing?” he wrote. 

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I have been writing for my hometown paper for more than two decades. These days, I write about how the pandemic is affecting our community. If you have a story idea, call or text me at 716-710-9393, or email me at

Related to this story

The gunman in Saturday's racist massacre was on the radar of state police more than a year before his rampage. He underwent a required mental health evaluation, but still could buy weapons, post online his plans to murder Black people and scope out his target.

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