CONKLIN, N.Y. (AP) — As the days of Payton Gendron’s senior year at Susquehanna Valley High School changed by COVID-19 came to an end, he Logged into a virtual learning program in an economics class and asked, “When will you retire?”
“Murder-suicide,” Gendron enters.
Long seen by his classmates as a high-achieving loner, the bespectacled 17-year-old was detained and taken to hospital for treatment after being questioned by state police for possible threats, despite his protests that it was a complete joke . Psychiatric evaluation under state mental health laws.
But a day and a half later, he was released. Two weeks later, he was allowed to take part in graduation celebrations, including a senior parade, where he was pictured sitting in a convertible driven by his father with yellow and blue balloons that read “Congratulations” and ” Peyton Gendron.”
The claim that Gendron broke the law last spring underscores the same point school officials made in a message to parents at the time: The investigation found no specific, credible threat to the school or the school, according to authorities and other people familiar with the matter. Anyone showing signs of trouble.
The same young white man bought a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle and walked three hours to Buffalo to continue what authorities say is a racist, live-streaming rampage 10 black people died in a crowded supermarket on Saturday.
Gendron, 18, was arraigned over the weekend on state murder charges, and a court-appointed public defender entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. He remains jailed on suicide watch as federal prosecutors consider hate crime charges.
Even as the FBI swarmed the neighborhood of 5,000 people near the New York-Pennsylvania line, where Gendron lives with his parents and two younger brothers, neighbors and classmates said they were concerned about what they saw on 180 pages online. This racist remark made no mention of a diatribe allegedly written by Gendron, in which he detailed how he researched zip codes with the highest concentration of black people, spied on Tops supermarkets in Buffalo, and carried out attacks to terrorize all non-white, non-Christian Christians leave the country.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden pay their respects to the victims of the supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York.
Classmates describe Gendron as a quiet, studious boy who has achieved high grades but has seemed out of place in recent years, turning to online streaming games, a fascination with guns and a method of grabbing the attention of his peers.
When schools reopened partially in 2020 following COVID-19-related closures, Gendron showed up head-to-toe in protective clothing. Classmate Matthew Casado said he didn’t think the stunt – which he called a “harmless joke” – was not popular with other students.
“Most people didn’t associate with him,” he said. “They don’t want to be friends with a socially awkward and nerdy kid.”
Gendron excels in science, having won top marks in state chemistry competitions. But he has a reputation for being silent and not talking much. When he did speak, it was about isolation, rejection and despair.
“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 from Gendron last year.
Sometime last winter, Gendron’s mother called Casado’s mother and asked: Please let Matthew call Payton because he has no friends and needs to talk.
Over the next few months, the two boys ended up going to flea markets together, watching YouTube videos and shooting on nearby state land.
Some neighbors share a similar view, according to online records, that the family is happy and prosperous, and Paul Gendren and his wife Pamela both have steady jobs as civil engineers with the New York State Department of Transportation, earning nearly $200,000 in total.
Dozens of their Facebook posts over the years show the parents and their three boys – usually in matching outfits – enjoying amusement park vacations, boat and camping trips, shooting laser tag guns and Open presents on Christmas morning.
Carl Lobdell, a family friend who first met Gendron on a camping vacation more than a decade ago, said he felt bad about Payton being identified as a suspect in the mass shooting. Shock.
“When I heard about the shooting…I just cried,” he said.
A lawyer for Gendron, Daniel DuBois, said on Tuesday he would not comment. The family did not respond to requests for comment over the weekend. No one opened the door at home on Monday, surrounded by neat and spacious lawns. Near the front door is a small right hand pressed out of concrete with a heart symbol and the words “PAYTON 2008”.
The parent of a Susquehanna Valley High School student said she was outraged that the student who was investigated last year for making threats — who she later found to be Gendron — was still allowed to attend all graduation events. The woman asked not to be named for fear of harassment.
Buffalo Police Chief Joseph Gramalia said Mr. Gendren’s June 2021 comments at the school were “general statements,” not directed at any people. A specific location or a specific location, which is why no criminal charges have been brought. The state police “did everything within the law,” he said.
Gendron attended Broome County Community College before dropping out. The school will not say why. He has been planning an attack on a Buffalo supermarket since at least November, saying he was taught his racist views online, according to online articles attributed to him.
“I have never been diagnosed with a mental disability or disorder, and I believe I am fully awake,” one paragraph reads.
A new 589-page document of online diary posts emerged on Monday, which authorities blamed on Gendron. In it, he detailed his preparations for the Buffalo supermarket shooting, and at one point wrote that he considered attacking a predominantly black elementary school. He also recounted how he chased a nearby cat, stabbed and decapitated it with an axe, took a picture and buried it in the backyard.
Some of its passages are also consistent with AP sources’ threat investigation into his high school.
“Another bad experience was when I had to go to a hospital emergency room because I uttered the word ‘murder/suicide’ to an online paper in an economics class,” one entry said. “I got rid of it because I insisted on the story that I was leaving the class and I just stupidly wrote it down. That’s why I believe I can still buy guns.”
“It’s not a joke, I wrote it down because that’s what I intended to do.”
Condon reported from New York. Eric Tucker in Washington, Michael R. Sisak in New York, and journalism researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed.
Contact the Associated Press’ global investigative team at [email protected].