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Authorities investigating if retired federal agent knew of Buffalo mass shooting plans in advance

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Tops shooting aftermath (copy)

A police vehicle is parked at the Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo on May 15, a day after a gunman murdered 10 people and injured three others.

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Law enforcement officers are investigating whether a retired federal agent had about 30 minutes advance notice of a white supremacist's plans to murder Black people at a Buffalo supermarket, two law enforcement officials told The Buffalo News. 

Authorities believe the former agent – believed to be from Texas – was one of at least six individuals who regularly communicated with accused gunman Payton Gendron in an online chat room where racist hatred was discussed, the two officials said.

The two law enforcement sources with direct knowledge of the investigation stated these individuals were invited by Gendron to read about his mass shooting plans and the target location about 30 minutes before Gendron killed 10 people at Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue on May 14. 

The News could not determine if the retired agent accepted the invitation. 

Payton Gendron felony hearing (copy)

Payton Gendron, 18, from outside Binghamton, appears at a felony hearing May 19 before Buffalo City Court Chief Judge Craig D. Hannah in the Erie County Courthouse.

“These were like-minded people who used this chat group to talk about their shared interests in racial hatred, replacement theory and hatred of anyone who is Jewish, a person of color or not of European ancestry,” said one of the two law enforcement officials with close knowledge of the investigation. “What is especially upsetting is that these six people received advanced notice of the Buffalo shooting, about 30 minutes before it happened.

“The FBI has verified that none of these people called law enforcement to warn them about the shooting. The FBI database shows no advance tips from anyone that this shooting was about to happen.”

Agents from the FBI are in the process of tracking down and interviewing the six people, including the retired agent, and attempting to determine if any of them should be charged as accomplices, the two sources with close knowledge of the probe told The Buffalo News.

The two sources did not identify the agent by name and could not confirm what federal agency he worked for.

The Buffalo FBI Office declined to comment on the investigation. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo declined through a spokeswoman to comment. 

Buffalo civil rights attorney John V. Elmore said it will be outrageous if it turns out that a former law enforcement officer had advance notice of the shooting and did nothing to prevent it.

“If he had advance notice, he had a moral obligation to get on the phone and try to notify someone about it,” said Elmore, who represents the family of Andre Mackniel, who was shot dead when he went to Tops to buy a birthday cake for his 3-year-old son.

Attorney Terrence M. Connors, who is representing several families who lost loved ones in the shooting, said: “As outrageous as this may sound, based upon what we are finding in our investigation, it is not surprising.” He declined to reveal the evidence his law firm has collected.

The New York Times reported May 17 that Gendron invited a small group of people into a private chat room on the messaging platform Discord to review his plan about 30 minutes before the massacre at Tops. The Washington Post reported two days later that 15 people accepted Gendron's invitation into the Discord chat room and were able to review his plan and watch his live stream video as he committed the killings.

Federal authorities are investigating if the retired agent provided information to Gendron before he went on his shooting spree, the two law enforcement officials told The News.

In addition to law enforcement sources, two other individuals with knowledge of the mass shooting investigation have also confirmed that federal authorities are looking into the former agent’s relationship to the shooter.

The Sandman

FBI agents are also trying to determine the identity of an individual Gendron calls “Sandman,” and “Saint Sandman” in his lengthy social media diary that appeared on Discord 30 minutes before the attack, the sources said.

In the diary, Gendron indicates Sandman counseled him on manufacturers of AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and their quality. The shooter purchased and allegedly used that type of assault rifle in the rampage, which local authorities have said was fueled by his racial hatred.

In the document Gendron posted on Discord just prior to the shooting, he references Sandman three times. 

In a passage dated May 2, he quoted Saint Sandman as saying: "When the time finally comes to deal decisively with a whole host of society's problems, and not go to prison for it, you'll know. Just be ready. You have spent your entire life, from the day you were born, right up to this very moment, reading this sentence, coming to where you are right now. Look around you. Are you content with where you are right now? Are you where you want to be? If so, continue to march. If not, what are you going to do? What's your plan? Get and keep your mind, body, and spirit right. Pray. Lift. Run. Read. Shoot. And teach your kids to do those things.” 

A third law enforcement source told The News they are aware of Gendron’s writings involving the quality of different rifles. The shooter ended up using a Bushmaster X-15, a version of the AR-15 rifle, police have reported.

Staff reporter Caitlin Dewey contributed to this report. 

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I am a member of The Buffalo News' watchdog team, coauthor of New York Times bestseller, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and The Oklahoma City Bombing. I'm also a proud graduate of Buffalo State College where I met my wife who is my editor in life!

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