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Security guard killed in Buffalo shooting hailed as a hero

CBS News logo CBS News 5/15/2022 Stefan Becket
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A retired police officer who worked as a security guard at the Buffalo supermarket where a gunman shot and killed 10 people Saturday was hailed for his bravery, with officials saying his actions before he was struck down likely saved the lives of others.

Aaron Salter Jr., who worked on the Buffalo Police Department for decades before retiring several years ago, according to the Buffalo News, confronted the suspected gunman inside Tops Friendly Markets, officials said. Salter's shots failed to penetrate the armored vest of the suspected gunman, later identified as 18-year-old Payton Gendron, and the gunman returned fire, killing Salter. 

"He's a true hero, and we don't know what he prevented. There could have been more victims if not for his actions. He's been retired for several years. He's been a beloved member and employee of Tops here, working security and he went down fighting," Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said on ABC's "This Week." "We're sure he saved lives yesterday."

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia echoed that sentiment at a press conference Sunday, where officials provided details about the investigation into the mass shooting.

"I can't say enough about our retired fellow colleague, Aaron Salter, who confronted this individual to save the lives of others. And may he rest in peace," Garcia said.

Flowers are left at a makeshift memorial outside of Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, New York, on May 15, 2022. / Credit: Getty Images © Provided by CBS News Flowers are left at a makeshift memorial outside of Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, New York, on May 15, 2022. / Credit: Getty Images

The deadly attack is being investigated on state and federal level as a racially motivated hate crime. Eleven of the 13 people who were shot were Black, including Salter. 

Buffalo police responded to the scene of the shooting within a minute of it being reported on Saturday and confronted the suspect, who pointed his gun underneath his chin. Police convinced him to drop the weapon.

"Our officers very courageously used every deescalation tactic that they could. They talked him down. It was a pretty one-sided fight there with the armor that he had, and they were able to safely take him into custody with no further shots being fired," Gramaglia said at the press conference. 

Gendron was arrested and arraigned on a murder charge, to which he pleaded not guilty. He is being held in custody under suicide watch, Garcia said.

Officials said Gendron was fueled by racist hatred and chose his target because of its location in a neighborhood with a high Black population, as reflected in a hate-filled manifesto purportedly written by the suspect and posted online before the attack. In the document, the author identifies himself as Gendron and details a litany of racist ideas about White Americans being "replaced" by ethnic minorities, reflecting an ideology that has fueled several mass shootings in recent years.

"We are certainly saddened that someone drove from hundreds of miles away, someone not from this community, that did not know this community, that came here to take as many Black lives as possible, who did this in a willful, premeditated fashion, planning this," Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said in an interview with "Face the Nation" Sunday morning.

The sprawling investigation now involves multiple local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, with investigators combing Gendron's digital footprint and home in Conklin, New York, roughly 3.5 hours from Buffalo. Officials said Gendron was in the Buffalo area on Friday, one day before the shooting, to conduct "reconnaissance" on the store. Gramaglia said officers are working to obtain GPS data to develop a timeline of his movements, and had issued warrants for his phone, computer, car, residence and social media accounts.

"State police and FBI are at his house. They've spoken with the parents. From what I've been told, they're absolutely distraught and devastated," Gramaglia said.

Gendron allegedly had three weapons with him during the shooting: an AR-15 rifle, a handgun and a shotgun, Gramaglia said. The AR-15 was purchased legally in New York, but he allegedly used a high-capacity magazine that is banned in the state. Officials said they were working to determine when and how he obtained the modified magazine.

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