By BERNARD CONDON and MICHAEL HILL Associated Press
CONKLIN, N.Y. (AP) — In the waning days of Payton Gendron’s COVID-19-altered senior year at Susquehanna Valley High School, he logged on to a virtual learning program in economics class that asked: “What do you plan to do when you retire?”
“Murder-suicide,” Gendron typed.
Despite his protests that it was all a joke, the bespectacled 17-year-old who had long been viewed by classmates as a smart loner was questioned by state police over the possible threat and then taken into custody and to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation under a state mental health law.
“On June 8, 2021, State Police responded to Susquehanna High School in Conklin, NY, to investigate a report that a 17-year-old student had made a threatening statement. The student was taken into custody under NYS Mental Health Law section 9.41 and transported to the hospital for a mental health evaluation. As a matter of policy, for privacy reasons, State Police do not reveal the identity of people who are taken into custody under the mental health law and are not charged criminally.” – New York State Police
But a day and a half later, he was released. And two weeks after that, he was allowed to participate in graduation festivities, including riding in the senior parade, where he was photographed atop a convertible driven by his father and festooned with yellow-and-blue balloons and signs reading, “Congratulations” and “Payton Gendron.”
That account of Gendron’s brush with the law last spring, according to authorities and other people familiar with what happened, emphasized the same point school officials made in a message to parents at the time: An investigation found no specific, credible threat against the school or any individual from that sign of trouble.
That same young white man bought a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, traveled three hours to Buffalo and went on what authorities say was a racist, livestreamed shooting rampage Saturday in a crowded supermarket that left 10 Black people dead.
Gendron, now 18, was arraigned on a state murder charge over the weekend and a court-appointed public defender entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. He remained jailed under suicide watch as federal prosecutors contemplate hate-crime charges.
Even as the FBI swarmed the comfortable home where Gendron lived with his parents and two younger brothers, neighbors and classmates in this community of 5,000 near the New York-Pennsylvania line say they saw no inkling of the young man now being described on television.
And they say they saw nothing of the kind of racist rhetoric seen in a 180-page online diatribe, purportedly written by Gendron, in which he describes in minute detail how he researched ZIP codes with the highest concentrations of Black people, surveilled the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, and carried out the assault to terrorize all nonwhite, non-Christian people into leaving the country.
Classmates described Gendron as a quiet, studious boy who got high marks but seemed out of place in recent years, turning to online streaming games, a fascination with guns and ways to grab attention from his peers.
When school partially opened again early last year after COVID-19-related shutdowns, Gendron showed up covered head to toe in a hazmat suit. Classmate Matthew Casado said he didn’t think the stunt -– he called it “a harmless joke” — went down well with other students.
“Most people didn’t associate with him,” he said. “They didn’t want to be known as friends with a kid who was socially awkward and nerdy.”
Gendron excelled in sciences, once earning top marks in a state chemistry competition. But he was known for keeping to himself and not talking much. And when he did talk, it was about isolation, rejection and desperation.
“He talked about how he didn’t like school because he didn’t have friends. He would say he was lonely,” said Casado, who graduated with Gendron last year.
At one point last winter, Gendron’s mother called Casado’s mother with a request: Please have Matthew call Payton because he had no friends and needed to talk.
The two boys ended up going to flea markets together, watching YouTube videos and shooting guns on nearby state land over the next few months. Casado said that he had never heard his friend talk of anything violent.
“I didn’t think he would hurt a fly,” he said.
Some neighbors had a similar view, seeing the family as happy and prosperous, with both Paul Gendron and his wife, Pamela, holding stable jobs as civil engineers with the New York state Department of Transportation, earning nearly $200,000 combined, according to online records.
Dozens of their Facebook posts over the years show the parents and their three boys — often dressed in matching outfits — enjoying amusement park vacations, going on boat trips, shooting laser tag guns and opening presents on Christmas morning.
Carl Lobdell, a family friend who first met Gendron on a camping vacation a dozen years ago, said he was shocked that Payton was identified as the suspect in the mass shooting.
“He was very friendly, very respectable,” said Lobdell, adding that his family had grown so close to the Gendrons that they even attended Payton’s graduation party last year. “When I heard about the shooting … I just cried.”
The family did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend, nor did Gendron’s attorney. No one answered the door Monday at the family home, surrounded by a neat, spacious lawn. Near the front door was a tiny right hand pressed in concrete with a heart symbol and the words, “PAYTON 2008.”
One parent of a Susquehanna Valley High student said she was furious that the student who was investigated for making the threat last year — whom she later discovered was Gendron — was still allowed to participate in all graduation activities. The woman asked not to be identified because she feared harassment.
According to a recording of a conference call of federal and local law enforcement officials Monday that was obtained by The Associated Press, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Gendron’s comments he made in school in June 2021 were “generalized statements” and not targeted at anyone in particular or at a specific location, which is why no criminal charges were filed. He said the state police “did everything within the confines of the law.”
Gendron enrolled at Broome County Community College and later dropped out. The school wouldn’t say why. And according to online writings attributed to him, he began planning his assault on the Buffalo supermarket beginning at least in November, saying he was inculcated into his racist views online.
“I was never diagnosed with a mental disability or disorder, and I believe to be perfectly sane,” according to one passage.
A new, 589-page document of online diary postings emerged Monday that authorities have attributed to Gendron, and some of its passages tracked with the account AP’s sources gave of his high school threat investigation.
“Another bad experience was when I had to go to a hospitals ER because I said the word’s ‘murder/suicide’ to an online paper in economics class,” said one entry. “I got out of it because I stuck with the story that I was getting out of class and I just stupidly wrote that down. That is the reason I believe I am still able to purchase guns.”
“It was not a joke, I wrote that down because that’s what I was planning to do.”
Buffalo Shooter’s Previous Threat Raises Red-Flag Questions
AP – Less than a year before he opened fire and killed 10 people in a racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, 18-year-old Payton Gendron was investigated for making a threatening statement at his high school.
New York has a “red flag” law designed to keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others, but Gendron was still able to legally buy an AR-15-style rifle.
The “general” threat at Susquehanna Valley High School last June, when he was 17, resulted in state police being called and a mental health evaluation at a hospital.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told Buffalo radio station WKSE-FM that Gendron had talked about murder and suicide when a teacher asked about his plans after school ended, and it was quickly reported but the threat wasn’t considered specific enough to do more.No request was made to remove any firearms from the suspect, New York state police said Monday.
The revelations are raising new questions about why the law wasn’t invoked and how the effectiveness of “red flag laws” passed in 19 states and the District of Columbia can differ based on how they’re implemented.
WHAT ARE RED FLAG LAWS?
Typically, red-flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, are intended to temporarily remove guns from people with potentially violent behavior, usually up to a year. In many cases, family members or law enforcement must petition the court for an order, though New York is a rare state in which educators can also start the process.
Removing weapons for that long, however, requires a hearing in which prosecutors must convince a judge that the person poses a risk. Most states also block the person from buying more guns during that period.
“Any peace officer … may take into custody any person who appears to be mentally ill and is conducting himself in a manner which is likely to result in serious harm to himself or others.” – Consolidated Laws of New York, Chapter 27, Article 9, Section 9.40
Red-flag laws are often adopted after tragedies. Florida did so after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 students. Law enforcement officials had received numerous complaints about the 19-year-old gunman’s threatening statements.
“This is actually one of the very few policies we have available where it actually builds on this vanishingly small point of common ground between public health people who want to stop gun violence and gun owners and the gun industry,” said Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry at Duke University who researches gun violence.
But, Swanson added: “The issue is it’s so easy for people to get guns anyway. … It’s not a one-thing problem, and there’s not one solution to it either.”
WHAT DOES NEW YORK’S FLAG LAW SAY?
The 2019 law allows family members, prosecutors, police and school officials to ask courts to order the seizure of guns from someone who poses a danger to themselves or others.
The subject of the court action is also prohibited from buying guns while the order is in effect.
An explanation of the law on a state government website says the law made New York the first state to give teachers and school administrators the ability “to prevent school shootings by pursuing court intervention.”
The online description, crafted before the Buffalo shooting, expresses optimism about the law’s impact, saying it would both safeguard gun rights “while ensuring that tragedies, like the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, are not repeated.”
The question is why one wasn’t used in Gendron’s case.
WHAT’S THE PROCESS OF REQUESTING AN ORDER?
Someone seeking an order files a simple, two-page application with the primary county court. It’s considered a civil case, with no criminal charge or penalties involved.
A judge decides whether to issue a temporary order on the same day the application is filed, according to a New York courts website. If it is issued, police take the guns.
A hearing, involving witnesses and evidence, is set within 10 days. If the judge decides to issue a permanent order, it would remain in effect for a year. The petitioner can ask for an extension.
HAS THERE BEEN PUSHBACK TO THE LEGISLATION?
Some opponents of the red-flag legislation in New York feared it could lead to false accusations by family members or others with a grudge against a gun owner.
Legislators in New York and elsewhere were aware of the potential legal pitfalls and drafted laws in such a way to avoid constitutional challenges, said Eric Ruben, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice who also teaches law at SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas.
Among the safeguards in New York, he said, is a relatively high standard of proof — clear and convincing evidence — required to secure a final, yearlong order, he said. The law also includes penalties for false applications.
DO RED-FLAG LAWS SAVE LIVES?
The law, Ruben said, “poses significant obstacles” for someone under a red-flag order wanting to buy firearms because they are entered in the background check system as long as the order is in effect. “It wouldn’t stop someone from illegal purchases, however.”
Experts in red-flag laws contend that the laws have undoubtedly saved lives, be it in cases involving planned mass shootings, suicides or potentially deadly domestic violence cases.
“Certainly, red-flag laws are more than anything else aimed at trying to stop mass shootings,” said Dave Kopel, research director at the Colorado-based libertarian think tank Independence Institute, which supports gun rights. “But they can be and should be used for more than just that. A handful of killings or suicides is horrific enough.”
Swanson worked on a study that estimated Connecticut prevented one suicide for every 10 to 20 people subjected to gun seizures.
A 2019 California study found it was used in mass-shooting threats 21 times. Maryland authorities granted more than 300 petitions in the three months after its law went into effect, including at least four threats of school violence.
That research shows the laws have worked, said Allison Anderman, senior counsel for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, though absolute proof can be tough.
“It’s very hard to prove a law is effective based on things not happening,” she said. “We still have a problem where we have more guns than people in this country, and this patchwork system of laws and our overall weak laws.”
Buffalo shooting suspect’s parents interviewed by feds day after attack
May 15, 2022
FOX NEWS – Federal and state investigators have interviewed the parents of accused mass shooter Payton Gendron and have executed a number of search warrants in connection with his alleged Saturday attack, which left 10 people dead and another three wounded, officials said Sunday.
New York State troopers and agents with the FBI traveled to 18-year-old Gendron’s home on Sunday to speak with the parents have been cooperative with authorities, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told reporters during a Sunday press conference.
“From what I’ve been told, they’re absolutely distraught and devastated,” Gramaglia said … READ MORE.