by Aaron Morrison and Carolyn Thompson
Buffalo, NY ( Associated Press) – Relatives of 10 black people who died at a Buffalo supermarket called on the nation Thursday to confront and stop racist violence, their suffering flowing to the tears of a 12-year-old child, some of white Hours later the man accused of the murders quietly faced a murder charge in court.
Jacques “Jake” Patterson, who lost his father, covered his face with his hands as his mother spoke at a news conference. Once she was finished, Jake fell into the arms of veteran civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, and cried silently, using his T-shirt to wipe away his tears.
“He’s heartbroken,” said his mother, Tirza Patterson, adding that her son was having trouble sleeping and eating.
“As a mother, what should I do to help her overcome this?” he said.
Her ex-husband of the church, Hayward Patterson, 67, was shot dead on Saturday at Topps Friendly Market. So Robin Harris’ 86-year-old mother and best friend, Ruth Whitfield, had one day when she had to go see the touring Broadway show “Ain’t Too Proud.”
“That racist young man took my mother,” said Harris, trembling and slamming her feet as she spoke.
“how dare you!” Harris groaned loudly.
“I need to stop this violence,” she said. “We need to fix it, and we need to fix it now.”
Earlier in the day in another part of the city, 18-year-old accused gunman Peyton Gendron appeared in court to hear that he had been charged with the murders.
“Payton, you’re a coward!” Someone shouted in the courtroom gallery when he was taken away.
Gendron, whose lawyer previously filed a not-guilty plea for him during his court appearance, did not speak. His lawyers later declined to comment. He is being kept without bail and is due back in court on June 9.
Authorities are investigating the possibility of hate crime and terrorism charges against Gendron, who apparently detailed his plans for the attack and his racist motivations in hundreds of pages of writing posted online shortly before the shooting. It was livestreamed from a helmet-mounted camera.
“We need to hold accountable all those who spread hatred and help in this country,” Sharpton said at a news conference outside Antioch Baptist Church in Buffalo. The civil rights activist group, the National Action Network, plans to cover funeral expenses for those killed.
The massacre at the Topps supermarket was troubling even in a country that has almost gone numb to mass shootings. Altogether thirteen people were shot, two of whom were black. Gendron’s online writing states that he planned the attack after being influenced by the white supremacist ideology he encountered online.
“I constantly wonder what could have been done,” Mark Talley said at the families news conference, holding a photo of his 62-year-old mother, Geraldine Talley. His fiancée, who survived the shooting, shot him to death, his son said.
Inaction on the threat of white supremacist violence, Talley said, led to last weekend’s bloodshed.
“It’s like Groundhog Day. We’ve seen it over and over again,” he said.
Chief Agent Stephen Belongia of the FBI in Buffalo said at a news briefing that agents were still working to piece together Gendron’s intentions and how he came to his extremist views. Investigators are examining documents online, including a personal diary on the chat platform Discord.
The diary states that Gendron planned his attack in secret, without any outside help. Discord said that half an hour before the fire, he invited a small group of people to see his writings.
According to a person familiar with the investigation, who was not authorized to speak publicly about it, fifteen Discord users admitted.
It was not clear how quickly those people saw what he wrote or whether anyone attempted to alert law enforcement.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has authorized the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, to investigate whether the social media companies used by Gendron are liable to “provide a platform for planning and promoting violence.” She was
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Thursday that social media users can also play a role by speaking up when they see people posting violent or threatening content.
“You need to get these people out,” he said at a briefing. “Expose the people who are throwing out these kinds of extreme ideas, and we have to root them out.”
At the families news conference, Tirza Patterson had another request.
“I need the village to help raise my son and live here,” he said, asking people to pray “that God give us the strength to go through this.”
“We are the village,” said civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, encouraging the family members of other victims to get involved.
Associated Press writers Michael Hill in Albany, Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed.