As the end of the academic school year neared at Susquehanna Valley High in Binghamton (N.Y.), students were asked to complete a school project on their future plans.
According to a law enforcement official briefed, Payton Gendron, a senior said that he wanted to commit murder-suicide.
The official stated that he claimed to be laughing. Officials from the police said that Gendron was taken into custody by state police on Sunday, June 8, under a state mental law.
Officials said that he underwent a psychiatric assessment in a hospital, but was released the next day. Two weeks later, Mr. Gendron graduated and fell off investigators’ radar.
He was seen 200 miles away in Buffalo when he shot at a store in a predominantly Black area. This attack killed 10 people and wounded three others. It is believed that he was responsible for one of the most violent racist murders in American history.
After his rampage Mr. Gendron took his gun to his throat. Two officers convinced Gendron to drop his weapon, and surrender.
Saturday’s murder charge was filed against him. While he waited to be sentenced, investigators looked through his history to see how he changed from a quiet student into an accused killer.
New York State has a red flag law. People deemed to be dangerous can be made to surrender their guns. However, Mr. Gendron was not able to invoke this law. According to the state police, he did not name a target in his threat of killing someone.
Former classmates stated that Gendron’s bizarre behavior was the reason for the episode. Two of his former classmates claimed that he arrived at class wearing hazmat gear, after the 2020 pandemic restrictions had been lifted.
“He wore the entire suit, boots, gloves, everything,” Nathan Twitchell, 19, said as he stood on his porch in Binghamton, shaking his head. “Everyone was just staring at him.”
Cassaundra, a high school student, stated that it was one of few times they saw Mr. Gendron. Ms. Williams (19) said that Gendron preferred online learning even though his classmates were back on campus.
“He was always very quiet and never much said anything,” said Ms. Williams, who added that Mr. Gendron was “book smart” but had grown more reclusive over the years since she met him in elementary school.
“We were just so shocked. We can’t even wrap our heads around it still,” she said.
F.B.I. agents and other law officers gathered Sunday morning outside Mr. Gendron’s family home in Conklin, a town of about 5,000 people.
The two-story, light-blue house had little movement, aside from agents who paced the driveway. Three neighbors stood close together, their arms folded, as they walked down the block. Some remembered watching Mr. Gendron play basketball with his two brothers in their driveway. Others even recall attending his front-yard graduation party last summer.
Mr. Gendron’s mother did not respond to a message left on Sunday afternoon. Brian Parker, the lawyer who represented Mr. Gendron in his arraignment did not respond to a message.
Ms. Williams stated that Mr. Gendron was the last time she saw him since graduation. She claimed she was shocked that a friend texted her Saturday after the shooting to inform her that Mr. Gendron was in jail.
“He was just a quiet, smart kid that I wouldn’t think would be able to do anything like what he did yesterday,” said Mr. Twitchell. “It just blows my mind.”
Kolton Gardner, 18, who attended middle school and high school with Mr. Gendron, described him as “definitely a little bit of an outcast.”
“He just wasn’t that social,” Mr. Gardner said. “I knew he had an interest in guns, but where we grew up that wasn’t uncommon. That’s just kind of the thing in rural New York, people like guns.”
Mr. Gendron’s fascination with guns went beyond the casual. According to law enforcement officials, Gendron had planned the attack for several months. He also posted a 180-page manifesto online outlining his motives and detailing his meticulous preparations. He also wrote extensively on the pros and disadvantages of different firearms in his manifesto.
The document includes a question-and-answer section, charts of data that lend a pseudoscientific air and pages of racist and antisemitic memes — as well as his thoughts on cryptocurrency.
He described his admiration of mass killers past and stated that he had taken as an inspiration the Christchurch mosque massacre, New Zealand 2019, which he wrote.
One of many unanswered questions posed by Mr. Gendron’s rampage is why his grim response about his post-graduation plans did not lead to further intervention beyond the mental-health exam.
Under New York State’s red flag law, enacted in 2019, anyone who believes that someone may be a threat to themselves or others can ask a judge to issue an “extreme risk protection order” that prevents the person from purchasing or possessing a firearm. It is not often used.
A law enforcement official was briefed on the school project and stated that there are hundreds upon hundreds of school threats in New York each year. Each case is investigated by authorities who interview the parents and students to find out if they have guns. The authorities then attempt to make a reasoned phone call.
However, Mr. Gendron did not appear to be on any red flag list when he entered Vintage Firearms at Endicott in N.Y. and purchased the Bushmaster semiautomatic gun that the police believe he used in this shooting.
Robert Donald, who is the owner of the shop, confirmed that the gun was sold to Mr. Gendron according to his records, but said that he does not recall the young man. He also said that he only sells a few of these types of guns per year.
Mr. Donald (75), who owns the shop since 1993, primarily sells collectible guns and was shocked to hear that federal investigators reached him Saturday to inquire about Mr. Gendron. Mr. Donald stated that Mr. Gendron bought the gun within the past few weeks.
Mr. Donald claimed that he conducted a background investigation on Mr. Gendron prior to selling him the gun. The report did not show anything. “He didn’t stand out, because if he did, I would have never sold him the gun,” Mr. Donald said.
Mr. Gendron wrote that he modified the gun with his father’s power drill, using a parts kit that retails for $60. Donald claimed that Mr. Gendron sold the firearm because it conformed to state law, which prohibits military-style features.
“Even with all of those safety features on it — which is the only way I sell it — any gun can be easily modified if you really want to do it,” he said.
Christine Chung, Luke Vander PloegAnd Mark WalkerContributed reporting
Source: NY Times