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BUFFALO, N.Y. – When a self-described White supremacist allegedly opened fire on a crowd of innocent shoppers at a Buffalo supermarket Saturday, victims in the front of the store had little chance of escape, with several ambushed in the first few seconds.
Taisiah Stewart, 20, who recently moved to New York state from Georgia to live with his mother, said he sprinted nearly three-quarters of a mile to safety after witnessing the first woman struck near the store’s front window – leaving behind his phone and losing his shoes in the process.
He told Fox News Digital that he visited the Tops Friendly Market Saturday because he’d recently met a young woman nearby. He was near the front of the store, close to the security guard and former Buffalo Police Officer Aaron Salter Jr., when gunfire erupted.
“So as he goes out the door, I hear the gunshots,” he said. “And I looked back, I see the lady falling, the lady in all blue.”
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That lady was the first victim slain in two minutes of hell that broke out at a neighborhood grocery store, when a gunman in body armor and a ballistic helmet opened fire on innocent shoppers and livestreamed the attack on Twitch. He was using a semiautomatic rifle with a magazine that exceeded New York’s limit of 10 rounds.
“So I just get up and start running when I see her fall, and I run straight to the back, found the exit in the back,” Stewart said. “Really I found the freezer first, doubled back, turned around, then went to the exit.”
Losing his sandals in the panic, he ran nearly three-quarters of a mile to Best Street barefoot, he said.
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Wearing sandals Sunday, he had cuts on his feet and walked with a conspicuous limp. His mother corroborated his story, and the two were asking police if they could retrieve his shoes, cellphone and other belongings from inside.
“I’m one of the survivors,” he said, pointing to the store’s damaged front window. “You see the bullet holes, if I wouldn’t have moved, I would’ve been shot. And I’m sorry to all the families out there that lost their loved ones.”
Erie County Sheriff John Garcia asked that the suspect, 18-year-old Payton Gendron from 3 hours away in Conklin, New York, be referred to by his prisoner identification number: 157,103. He said authorities placed the prisoner on suicide watch in an isolated unit after Gendron had pulled up to the store and launched his attack around 2:30 p.m. Saturday, then aimed a gun at himself before being taken into custody.
City Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia hailed Salter as a hero Sunday, day after the former officer turned security guard traded shots with the gunman, according to the Associated Press.
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But his handgun failed to penetrate the attacker’s body armor, and he died in the exchange.
“He’s a true hero,” Gramaglia said. “There could have been more victims if not for his actions.”
Maria, who lives directly across the street from the supermarket and declined to give her last name, was at home with her three children, ages 9, 12 and 13, when the gunfire erupted.
“My kids said, ‘Mom, there’s shooting,’” she told Fox News Digital Sunday. “When I went to the window in the kitchen, I heard shots in Tops, so I was scared. And then I found out, some of them were my friends.”
One of those friends was Salter.
“He always was joking around, playing with my kids, laughing,” she said. “Life is short, and we don’t know what could happen the next day.”
Tearing up, she said she’d never seen anything like it in the six years she’s lived in the area.
“It breaks my heart, because I know them,” she said.
Maria and other neighbors told Fox News Digital that after they heard the gunshots, some of them called 911 and many saw people fleeing out the supermarket’s back door. A few ran into nearby houses to take shelter, while others kept running, including Stewart.
State, local and federal authorities said they were investigating the attack as a hate crime with racist motives.
“This is an absolute racist hate crime,” Gramaglia said during a news briefing Sunday afternoon.
The suspected killer posted a document online outlining his motivations, taking issues with minorities, especially Black and Jewish Americans.
“I was not born racist nor grew up to be racist,” he wrote in his hate-filled, 180-page screed. “I simply became racist after I learned the truth.”
The self-described White supremacist wrote that he was primarily inspired by the 2019 mosque massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, which also streamed live over the internet and left 51 people dead.
The Buffalo attacker described his own politics as “mild-moderate authoritarian left,” “eco-fascist national socialist” and “populist” and wrote that he formed his racist worldview based on “infographics, s—posts and memes” that he found online.
Police identified the victims late Sunday.
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The slain individuals were Buffalo residents Roberta Drury, 32, Margus Morrison, 52, Geraldine Talley, 62, Celestine Chaney, 65, Heyward Patterson, 67, Katherine Massey, 72, Pearl Young, 77, and Ruth Whitfield, 86 – as well as Andre Mackneil, of Auburn, 53, and Salter of Lockport, 55.
Three injured survivors were identified as Zaire Goodman, 20, of Buffalo, Jennifer Warrington, 50, of Tonawanda, and Christopher Braden, 55, of Lackawanna.
Gendron has been charged with first-degree murder and was being held without bail – but prosecutors told Fox News Digital Sunday that additional charges were possible and that the investigation remained ongoing.
Fox News’ Alexis McAdams and Francesca Walton contributed to this report.