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15 people joined suspected Buffalo shooter’s Discord private chat shortly before the shooting

<i>Kent Nishimura /Los Angeles Times/Getty Images</i><br/>The 18-year-old White man suspected of carrying out a racist mass shooting in a Buffalo
Kent Nishimura
Kent Nishimura /Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
The 18-year-old White man suspected of carrying out a racist mass shooting in a Buffalo

By Mark Morales, Eric Levenson and Samantha Beech, CNN

At least 15 people joined suspected Buffalo shooter Payton Gendron’s private account on the communications app Discord shortly before the shooting at the Tops Friendly Markets store, a person with knowledge of Discord’s internal investigation told CNN.

A Discord spokesperson previously confirmed that Gendron had sent out an invitation to a small group of people to view his chat logs about 30 minutes before the violence.

“A private, invite-only server was created by the suspect to serve as a personal diary chat log,” the Discord spokesperson told CNN on Tuesday. “Approximately 30 minutes prior to the attack, however, a small group of people were invited to and joined the server. Before that, our records indicate no other people saw the diary chat log in this private server.”

After the suspected shooter invited people to join the server, his posts would have been accessible to invitees as well as anyone they may have shared access with, the spokesperson said. Discord removed the server and related content “as soon as” it was aware of it following the shooting, the spokesperson said.

Gendron, an 18-year-old White man, was indicted by a grand jury on Wednesday, according to an affidavit from Erie County Assistant District Attorney Gary Hackbush.

The Erie County Grand Jury voted for an indictment against defendant Payton Gendron, “with regard to the felony complaint filed on or about May 14, 2022,” the affidavit states. The grand jury investigation has not yet been completed, Erie County DA John Flynn said in a statement.

Gendron, of Conklin, New York, previously pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder, and other charges are expected. The charge of first-degree murder covers two or more murders in Buffalo, a spokesperson for the DA’s office told CNN.

The indictment was announced Thursday during a brief court appearance for Gendron, who was ordered to remain held without bail until further action from a grand jury. He wore an orange jumpsuit and a white face mask and was handcuffed and shackled as he walked into the courtroom flanked by officers.

His next court appearance is scheduled for June 9. Defense attorney Brian Parker had no comment.

As Gendron was led away following his court appearance, someone in the packed courtroom yelled, “Payton, you’re a coward!”

Gendron is accused of driving from nearly 200 miles away to kill 10 people and wound three others in a shooting that took aim at a Tops supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Authorities are investigating the shooting as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism. Of the 13 victims shot, 11 were Black.

The FBI has completed its crime scene investigation at the supermarket and released the building back to its owners, officials said Thursday. Tops President and COO John Persons committed to reopening the supermarket as soon as possible, noting its importance in the “food desert” that does not have easy access to other grocery options.

“We want to make sure it is done right and that we open it in a respectful manner,” Persons said. “We will balance all those priorities.”

Officials digging into red flag laws, social media sites

While the suspect is behind bars, New York officials have called for further examination of how he was able to get guns and how he communicated his plans online.

In June, Gendron showed a warning sign of potential violence when he made a school project about murder-suicides when he was a student at Susquehanna Valley Central High School in Conklin, officials said.

Police were called to the school, and he was taken for a mental health evaluation and later released. At the time, police didn’t seek a “red flag” order of protection against Gendron.

The red flag law, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order law, is designed to prevent anyone who shows signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing a firearm, New York’s website states.

But because the evaluation was not an involuntary commitment, it did not prevent the suspected shooter from purchasing or possessing a gun under federal law, said New York State Police spokesperson Beau Duffy.

Since the shooting, Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed a gun laws package, as well as other changes to law enforcement protocol when a person shows they may be harmful to themselves or others. On Wednesday, Hochul said she would sign an executive order requiring state police to file an “extreme risk order of protection” under the red flag law when they believe that an individual is a threat to himself, herself or others.

The gun laws package would aim to close loopholes around specific types of guns that fall outside current regulations, including high-powered, concealable guns and those that can be modified to hold high-capacity magazines, she said.

The proposed legislation would remedy “just one of those enormous loopholes that you can drive a truck through,” she said.

In addition, New York Attorney General Letitia James launched an investigation into the social media platforms allegedly used by the suspect, including Discord.

A Discord spokesperson said the company will cooperate with the state attorney general’s investigation.

In online posts by Gendron on Discord and in a 180-page document investigators believe he wrote, he described himself as a White supremacist, fascist and anti-Semite. He allegedly wrote he targeted the Buffalo supermarket because it had the highest concentration of Black people in upstate New York and said he subscribed to “replacement theory,” a conspiracy theory that claims a cabal of elites are trying to replace White people with non-White immigrants.

The suspect’s social media posts have become central to the investigation because they offer details about how he planned his attack and his motives.

In posts first shared on Discord, then more widely on the hate-filled online forum 4Chan, Gendron said he visited the grocery store multiple times on March 8 to learn its layout. He noted how many Black and White people shopped during his visits and drew a map of the store’s interior, according to his posts.

The suspect also livestreamed the shooting on the website Twitch. The company said it took down the video within minutes, but social media companies were struggling to contain its spread.

James’ probe, disclosed Wednesday by her office, focuses on Twitch, Discord and the websites 4chan and 8chan (now known as 8kun). Other as yet unnamed companies could also be drawn into the investigation, James said.

James will report the findings of the investigation to Hochul.

“These social media platforms have to take responsibility. They must be more vigilant in monitoring the content and they must be held accountable for favoring engagement over public safety,” said the governor.

In a letter to James, Hochul called for the investigation to determine “whether specific companies have civil or criminal liability for their role in promoting, facilitating, or providing a platform to plan and promote violence.”

The-CNN-Wire
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CNN’s Clare Duffy, Kimberly Berryman, Aya Elamroussi, Shimon Prokupecz, Liam Reilly and Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.

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