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Anger and grief in Buffalo as police call Tops market shooting a hate crime

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're learning more about the mass shooting yesterday in Buffalo, N.Y., where 13 people were shot, 10 fatally, at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Investigators say the 18-year-old suspect, who is white, scouted the location in advance. Authorities say he was heavily armed and wearing body armor and that he traveled several hours to pursue the attack. It's being investigated as a racially motivated hate crime. Emyle Watkins of member station WBFO has this report.

EMYLE WATKINS, BYLINE: The suspect is charged with murder and could face terrorism charges as well. At a briefing today, police commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said the evidence is clear.

JOSEPH GRAMAGLIA: The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake that this is an absolute racist hate crime. It will be prosecuted as a hate crime. This is someone who has hate in their heart, soul and mind, and there is no mistake that that's the direction that this is going in.

WATKINS: Mourners gathered at a nearby church Sunday morning, not far from where Saturday's shooting took place.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Father, we're gathered here with heavy hearts.

WATKINS: At True Bethel Baptist Church, where at least one witness and families of the victims attend, the sermon was one of grief, anger, sadness, and a call for justice for the families. Bishop Darius Pridgen leads True Bethel and is also president of Buffalo's Common Council. Some have pointed out the alleged shooter was a teen. Pridgen says he knew what he was doing.

DARIUS PRIDGEN: His brain was developed enough to drive three hours to Buffalo, N.Y. His brain was developed enough to know how to load a weapon.

WATKINS: Community members want this act to be known as a targeted, racist attack on a predominantly Black community. The shooter has been charged with first-degree murder, which carries up to a life sentence without possibility of parole. But authorities are also investigating hate crime, terrorism and racially motivated violent extremism charges. Here's Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

BYRON BROWN: This individual came here with the expressed purpose of taking as many Black lives as he possibly could.

WATKINS: Buffalo Public Schools board member at large Terrance Heard says he spent last night consoling his neighbors.

TERRANCE HEARD: A neighbor frantically rang my doorbell and was crying because of the violence that she'd seen around the corner and just seeing people crying and screaming, chaos - but to actually, you know, be with the families and just to hold to them all night long.

WATKINS: Karl Shallowhorn attended a healing vigil at the site of the shooting early this morning.

KARL SHALLOWHORN: This supermarket is an anchor for the community. It is really the only of its kind in quite a range here. So it's a place where people go, people shop, and I go here myself. And, you know, they fought so hard to have it here.

WATKINS: After the vigil, people could be seen gathering to hand out free food to assist those who are not able to get groceries while Tops is closed. Across all gatherings Sunday was a message of how Buffalo, the city of good neighbors, will need to be here for each other in the difficult days to come. For NPR News, I'm Emyle Watkins in Buffalo, N.Y. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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