BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A white supremacist who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday after relatives of his victims confronted him with the pain and rage caused by his racist attack.
Anger briefly turned physical at Payton Gendron’s sentencing when a man in the audience rushed at him. The man was quickly restrained; prosecutors later said he wouldn’t be charged. The proceeding resumed after about 10 minutes, with more emotional outpouring from people who lost loved ones or were themselves wounded in the attack.
Gendron, whose hatred was fueled by racist conspiracy theories he encountered online, cried during some of the testimony and apologized to victims and their families in a brief statement.
Some angrily condemned him; others quoted from the Bible or said they were praying for him. Several pointed out that he deliberately attacked a Black community far from his nearly all-white hometown.
“You’ve been brainwashed,” Wayne Jones Sr., the only child of victim Celestine Chaney, said as sobs rose from the audience. “You don’t even know Black people that much to hate them. You learned this on the internet, and it was a big mistake.”
“I hope you find it in your heart to apologize to these people, man. You did wrong for no reason,” Jones said.
Gendron pleaded guilty in November to crimes including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a charge that carried an automatic life sentence.
“There can be no mercy for you, no understanding, no second chances,” Judge Susan Eagan said as she sentenced him.
Gendron, 19, also faces separate federal charges that could carry a death sentence if the U.S. Justice Department chooses to seek it. His defense attorney said in December that Gendron is prepared to plead guilty in federal court as well to avoid execution. New York state does not have the death penalty.
Gendron wore bullet-resistant armor and a helmet equipped with a livestreaming camera as he carried out the May 14 attack with a semiautomatic rifle he purchased legally but then modified so he could load it with illegal high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Tamika Harper, a niece of victim Geraldine Talley, said she hoped Gendron would pray for forgiveness.
“Do I hate you? No. Do I want you to die? No. I want you to stay alive. I want you to think about this every day of your life,” she said, speaking gently. “Think about my family and the other nine families that you’ve destroyed forever.”
Gendron locked eyes with Harper as she spoke, then lowered his head and cried.
Kimberly Salter, the widow of security guard Aaron Salter, explained that she and her family were wearing “red for the blood that he shed for his family and for his community, and black because we are still grieving.”
Christopher Braden, a Tops Friendly Market employee who was shot in the leg, said he was haunted by seeing the victims where they lay as he was carried out of the store.
“The visions haunt me in my sleep and every day,” he said.
Barbara Massey Mapps excoriated him for killing her 72-year-old sister, Katherine Massey. As Mapps shouted and pointed at Gendron, a person in the audience took a few steps toward him before getting held back.
“You don’t know what we’re going through,” a man shouted as he was led away by court officers. For several minutes thereafter, family members hugged and calmed each other.
Eagan then ordered Gendron back in and let the proceeding resume after admonishing everyone to “conduct ourselves appropriately.”
In his short statement, Gendron acknowledged he “shot and killed people because they were Black.”
“I believed what I read online and acted out of hate, and now I can’t take it back, but I wish I could, and I don’t want anyone to be inspired by me,” he said as a woman in the courtroom audience stood up, screamed that “we don’t need” his remarks and stormed out.
There were only three survivors among the 13 people he shot while specifically seeking out Black shoppers and workers.
His victims at the Tops market included a church deacon, the grocery store’s guard, a neighborhood activist, a man shopping for a birthday cake, a grandmother of nine and the mother of a former Buffalo fire commissioner. The victims ranged in age from 32 to 86.
In documents posted online, Gendron said he hoped the attack would help preserve white power in the U.S. He wrote that he picked the Tops grocery store, about a three-hour drive from his home in Conklin, New York, because it was in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
The mass shooting in Buffalo, and another less than two weeks later that killed 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school, amplified calls for stronger gun controls, including from victims’ relatives who traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify before lawmakers.
New York legislators quickly passed a law banning semiautomatic rifle sales to most people under age 21. The state also banned sales of some types of body armor.
President Joe Biden signed a compromise gun violence bill in June intended to toughen background checks, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws making it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous.
Disney updates lawsuit against DeSantis to add new events
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Disney on Monday amended its free speech lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis to add recent developments in the tit-for-tat fight between the entertainment giant and the Florida governor, such as a new law granting the state unprecedented authority to inspect a monorail system at Disney World.
Disney’s amended complaint filed in federal court in Tallahassee is updated with developments since the entertainment giant almost two weeks ago sued DeSantis and an oversight board for the Disney World governing district that is made up of members newly appointed by the governor.
The new complaint references legislation passed last week by Florida lawmakers that rescinds agreements that Disney and a previous oversight board consisting of Disney supporters made earlier this year, giving the entertainment giant control over design and construction at Disney World. The amended lawsuit also includes the new measure passed last week by Florida lawmakers giving the state authority to inspect Disney World’s monorail system, which previously had been conducted in-house.
Disney is the only company impacted by the new measure and it “was precision-engineered to target Disney alone, just as Governor DeSantis intended and previewed,” said the amended lawsuit.
The Disney lawsuit asks a federal judge to void the governor’s takeover of the theme park district, as well as the oversight board’s actions, on the grounds that they were violations of company’s free speech rights.
Almost a week after Disney filed its lawsuit, members of the oversight board sued Disne y last week in state court in an effort to maintain its control of construction and design at Disney World. It claimed the agreements between the company and previous board members “reek of a backroom deal.”
The fight began last year after Disney, beset by significant pressure both internally and externally, publicly opposed a state law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, a policy critics call “Don’t Say Gay.”
As punishment, DeSantis took over Disney World’s self-governing district through legislation passed by Florida lawmakers and appointed a new board of supervisors that would oversee municipal services for the sprawling theme parks and hotels. But before the new board came in, the company made agreements with members of the previous oversight board that stripped the new supervisors of their authority when it comes to design and construction.
The creation of Disney’s self-governing district by the Florida Legislature was instrumental in the company’s decision in the 1960s to build near Orlando. The company had told the state at the time that it planned to build a futuristic city that would include a transit system and urban planning innovations, so the company needed autonomy in building and deciding how to use the land. The futuristic city never materialized and instead morphed into a second theme park that opened in 1982.
Prosecutors dismiss Alec Baldwin charge, citing new evidence
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Prosecutors on Friday formally dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Alec Baldwin in the fatal 2021 shooting of a cinematographer on the set of the Western film “Rust, ” citing new evidence and the need for more time to investigate.
In a stunning turnaround for the 65-year-old A-list actor, special prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis filed the notice to dismiss the only remaining criminal allegation against Baldwin in state District Court in Santa Fe. Prosecutors say the investigation of the shooting that killed Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza is ongoing.
An involuntary manslaughter charge against Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the weapons supervisor on the film, is unchanged.
Friday’s court filing echoed early statements from prosecutors that new facts had been revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis.
On Thursday, after Baldwin’s attorneys announced the decision, the special prosecutors said the “decision does not absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability and charges may be refiled.” They have declined further comment and only vaguely addressed the matter during a virtual status conference Friday in Gutierrez-Reed’s case.
Shooting at Alabama birthday party kills 4 people, wounds 28
DADEVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama law enforcement officers Sunday were imploring people to come forward with information about a shooting that killed four people and injured 28 others during a teenager’s birthday party.
Among those killed was a high school senior who planned to play college football and was celebrating his sister’s 16th birthday. The shooting erupted Saturday night at a dance studio in downtown Dadeville.
During two news conferences Sunday, Sgt. Jeremy Burkett of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency did not take questions. He did not say if a suspect was in custody or if investigators knew about any motivation. He did not provide the names of those killed.
“We’ve got to have information from the community,” Burkett said during a Sunday evening news conference.
Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell, a Dadeville High School senior who had committed to Jacksonville State University, was celebrating at his sister Alexis’ party before he was shot to death, his grandmother Annette Allen told the Montgomery Advertiser.
“He was a very, very humble child. Never messed with anybody. Always had a smile on his face,” Allen told the newspaper, calling it “a million-dollar smile.”
Dowdell’s mother was among those hurt in the shooting.
“Everybody’s grieving,” Allen said.
Burkett said the shooting occurred about 10:30 p.m. Saturday. “There were four lives tragically lost in this incident,” he said.
The shootings rocked the city of 3,200 residents, which is about 57 miles (92 kilometers) northeast of Montgomery, Alabama.
Keenan Cooper, the DJ at the party, told WBMA-TV that the party was stopped briefly when attendees heard someone had a gun. He said people with guns were asked to leave, but no one left. Cooper said when the shooting began some time later, some people took shelter under a table where he was standing, and others ran out.
Pastor Jason Whetstone, who leads the Christian Faith Fellowship, said the granddaughter of one of his church members was shot in the foot and underwent surgery Sunday.
“All of our hearts are hurting right now. We’re just trying to pull together to find strength and comfort,” Whetstone said before an interfaith vigil in the parking lot of First Baptist Church.
“We are a loving community,” he said. “We’re pulling together in every aspect to comfort each and every one of these children, the teachers, all of the community.”
Dadeville’s compact downtown is centered around a courthouse square with one- and two-story brick buildings. The town’s busiest commercial district is a few blocks north of the square, off a bustling four-lane highway that runs between Birmingham and Auburn. Dadeville is close to Lake Martin, a popular recreational area.
Investigators on Sunday continued filing in and out of the Mahogany Masterpiece dance studio, denoted by a banner hanging on the outside of a one-story brick building just off the square. At least five bullet holes were visible in the studio’s front windows. Less than a block away, the American and Alabama flags were lowered to half staff outside the Tallapoosa County Courthouse.
Dadeville Mayor Frank Goodman said he was in bed asleep when a council member called him just before 11 p.m. Saturday. He said he went to Lake Martin Community Hospital in Dadeville, where some of the people who had been shot were taken.
“It was chaotic,” Goodman said. “There were people running around. They were crying and screaming. There were police cars everywhere, there were ambulances everywhere. People were trying to find out about their loved ones. That was a scene, where we never had anything like this happen in our city before.”
Pastor Ben Hayes, who serves as chaplain for the Dadeville Police Department and for the local high school football team, said most of the victims are teenagers. Dowdell was within weeks of graduation and faced a bright future, Hayes told The Associated Press.
“He was a strong competitor on the field,” Hayes said. “You didn’t want to try to tackle him or get tackled by him. But when he came off the field, he was one of the nicest young men that you could ever meet, very respectful and well-respected by his peers.”
Antojuan Woody, from the neighboring town of Camp Hill, was a senior and fellow wide receiver with Dowdell on a Dadeville Tigers football team that went undefeated before losing in the second round of the playoffs last year. He said he and Dowdell had been best friends for all of their lives.
“It hurts,” Woody said as a steady stream of friends and teammates walked over to hug him during Sunday’s prayer vigil. “It’s unreal. I can’t believe it.”
Woody said he and Dowdell had a special relationship on the football field. “Us being friends forever like that, our chemistry was spot on. We always celebrated together on the field,” he said.
He described the victims “as great people who didn’t deserve what happened to them.”
Hayes, the pastor, said worried families swarmed the local hospital Saturday night trying to find the condition of their children. He said serious crime is rare in Dadeville, and the small city is “sad, traumatized, in shock.”
Jacksonville State football coach Rich Rodriguez said in a statement Sunday: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Philstavious Dowdell and the other victims of the senseless tragedy last night. He was a great young man with a bright future.”
Dowdell also recently won medals at a high school track meet at Troy University.
Counseling will be available for students at Tallapoosa County schools Monday, said the school district superintendent, Raymond C. Porter.
“This morning, I grieve with the people of Dadeville and my fellow Alabamians. Violent crime has NO place in our state, and we are staying closely updated by law enforcement as details emerge,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said on social media.
President Joe Biden was briefed on the shooting, the White House said, adding that it is closely monitoring the situation and has been in touch with local officials and law enforcement to offer support.
“What has our nation come to when children cannot attend a birthday party without fear? When parents have to worry every time their kids walk out the door to school, to the movie theater, or to the park?” Biden said in a statement Sunday. “Guns are the leading killer of children in America, and the numbers are rising – not declining. This is outrageous and unacceptable.”
Biden called on Congress to “require safe storage of firearms, require background checks for all gun sales, eliminate gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability, and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”
The mayor said Dowdell was “a great young man.” He also said he is concerned about those wounded and psychologically traumatized by the shooting.
“We are praying for them,” Goodman said. “We ask God, if it’s his will, to bring them back to their parents safe, so they can mend.”
Goodman said guns and violence are not a frequent presence in Dadeville. He said trying to control guns would prove as futile as trying to control illegal drugs.
Dadeville High School had 485 students in grades 6-12 in 2022, according to Alabama state data. It serves Dadeville and nearby parts of Tallapoosa County. Like the rest of Dadeville, it’s tucked away just out of view off a busy highway that runs from Birmingham to Auburn.
Dadeville High’s head football coach Roger McDonald said he would try his best to support grieving students.
“There’s not a playbook for something like this,” he said. “So the best you’ve got to do is just love on your kids, let them all know how much you care about them, be there for them.”
McDonald said Dowdell had something special.
“He was a leader, and as far as his ability, an electrifying player,” the coach said.
Michael Taylor, an assistant coach, said he met Dowdell when the boy was 9 and coached him in youth football. Taylor said the team was invited to Atlanta to play in the stadium used by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.
“He did some amazing things there, and he never stopped doing them since then,” he said. “He was the No. 1 athlete in the school.”
Taylor said he last heard from Dowdell on Friday, when Dowdell was seeking video of his athletic exploits. Taylor said he drove to the shooting scene Saturday night from his home in nearby Camp Hill.
“Man, I couldn’t get close,” Taylor said. “So once I found out what’s going on, I really I just had to leave because it was going to be all night.”
Taylor said he returned Sunday to see Dowdle’s body carried out from the dance studio. He said he’s not sure what he will tell other athletes Monday.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is we’ve got to pray our way out of this,” Taylor said Sunday. “There ain’t no other way. And then I can tell you, they’re all real close like family at the high school.”
This is at least the second time in recent years that multiple people were shot in Dadeville. Five people were wounded in July 2016 during a shooting at an American Legion hall, and a man was later charged with five counts of attempted murder, news outlets reported.