BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A white supremacist who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday after relatives of his victims confronted him with pain and rage caused by his racist attack.
Anger briefly turned physical at Payton Gendron’s sentencing when a victim’s family member rushed at him from the audience. The man was quickly restrained; prosecutors later said he wouldn’t be charged. The proceeding then resumed with an emotional outpouring from people who lost loved ones or were themselves wounded in the attack.
Gendron, whose hatred was fueled by racist conspiracy theories he encountered online, cried during some of the testimony and apologized to victims and their families in a brief statement.
Their remarks ranged from sorrow to outrage, shouts to tears. Some vehemently condemned him; others quoted from the Bible or said they were praying for him. Several pointed out that he deliberately attacked a Black community a three-hour drive from his home in overwhelmingly white Conklin, New York.
“You’ve been brainwashed,” Wayne Jones Sr., the only child of victim Celestine Chaney, said as sobs rose from the audience. “You don’t even know Black people that much to hate them. You learned this on the internet.”
“I hope you find it in your heart to apologize to these people, man. You did wrong for no reason,” Jones said.
Gendron’s victims at the Tops Friendly Market — the only supermarket and a neighborhood hub on Buffalo’s largely Black East Side — included a church deacon, the grocery store’s guard, a man shopping for a birthday cake, a grandmother of nine and the mother of a former Buffalo fire commissioner. The victims ranged in age from 32 to 86.
Gendron pleaded guilty in November to crimes including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a charge that carried an automatic life sentence.
“There can be no mercy for you, no understanding, no second chances,” Judge Susan Eagan said as she sentenced him. She called his rampage “a reckoning” for a nation “founded and built, in part, on white supremacy.”
Gendron, 19, is due in a federal court Thursday for a status update in a separate case that could carry a death sentence if prosecutors seek it. His attorney said in December that Gendron is prepared to plead guilty in federal court to avoid execution. New York state does not have the death penalty.
The gunman wore bullet-resistant armor and a helmet equipped with a livestreaming camera as he carried out the May 14 attack with a semiautomatic rifle he purchased legally but then modified so he could load it with illegal high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“Do I hate you? No. Do I want you to die? No. I want you to stay alive. I want you to think about this every day of your life,” Tamika Harper, a niece of victim Geraldine Talley, told Gendron. “Think about my family and the other nine families that you’ve destroyed forever.”
Gendron locked eyes with Harper as she gently spoke. Then he lowered his head and wept.
Minutes later, Barbara Massey Mapps excoriated him for killing her 72-year-old sister, Katherine Massey, a neighborhood activist. As Mapps shouted and pointed at Gendron, a person in the audience took a few steps toward him before getting held back.
“You don’t know what we’re going through,” a man shouted as he was led away by court officers. For several minutes thereafter, family members hugged and calmed each other.
Eagan then ordered Gendron back in after admonishing everyone to behave appropriately.
In his short statement, Gendron acknowledged he “shot and killed people because they were Black.”
“I believed what I read online and acted out of hate, and now I can’t take it back, but I wish I could, and I don’t want anyone to be inspired by me,” he told the victims and their relatives. His own parents didn’t attend.
One woman in the audience stood up, screamed “we don’t need” his remarks and stormed out of the courtroom.
There were only three survivors among the 13 people he shot while specifically seeking out Black shoppers and workers.
Deja Brown said her father, Andre Mackniel, was blindsided “at the hands of a selfish boy who’s obviously not educated on the history of African Americans.”
Mackniel’s young son still calls for a father who was gunned down while shopping for a birthday cake for him, said his brother, Vyonne Elliott.
Christopher Braden, a Tops employee who was shot in the leg, said he was haunted by seeing the victims where they lay as he was carried out of the store.
“The visions haunt me in my sleep and every day,” he said.
In documents posted online, Gendron said he hoped the attack would help preserve white power in the U.S. He wrote that he picked the Tops grocery store because it is in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Prosecutor Justin Caldwell said Gendron hoped to start a race war, but instead the community came together.
Reacting from Washington, NAACP President Derrick Johnson called on federal leaders to acknowledge “the constant threat of violence” to Black communities and urged the media to stop spreading misinformation that feeds racist conspiracy theories.
The mass shooting in Buffalo, soon followed by another that killed 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school, amplified calls for stronger gun controls.
New York legislators quickly passed a law banning semiautomatic rifle sales to most people under age 21. The state also banned sales of some types of body armor.
In June, President Joe Biden, a Democrat, signed a compromise gun violence bill intended to toughen background checks, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous.
Peltz reported from New York. AP National Writer Aaron Morrison contributed from New York.