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Ex-cop is hailed a ‘hero’ after firing at Buffalo shooter ‘multiple times’

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Ex-cop is hailed a ‘hero’ after firing at Buffalo shooter ‘multiple times’

A former Buffalo police officer who died trying to take down a gunman is being hailed as a ‘hero’ by city officials.

Aaron Salter Jr, 55, had worked at the Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo, New York for the past four years – after serving as a Buffalo police officer for 30 years.

When a gunman walked into the store on Saturday afternoon with an assault weapon, Salter sprang into action and pulled out his own weapon.

He then fired multiple times at the gunman – who was later identified as 18-year-old Payton Gendron – but his bullets were unable to pierce Gendron’s armored plating, and Gendron was able to return fire – killing Salter.

In a press conference following the shooting Saturday afternoon, Joseph Gramaglia told reporters: ‘One of the individuals inside the store is a security guard, a beloved security guard, who is a retired Buffalo Police officer, a hero in our eyes.’

Police Benevolent Association President John Evans also told WIVB in the aftermath:  ‘I had the pleasure of knowing him, great guy, well-respected, well-liked.

‘This is just horrific,’ he said of the attack at the Tops supermarket store, in which 10 people were killed and three others were injured. ‘I don’t know what other words to describe it.’

Salter was one of 10 people killed in the apparently racially-motivated attack at the supermarket on Saturday, which also took the life of Ruth Whitfield, a mother to four children including former Buffalo fire commissioner, Garnell W. Witfield, 64.

Gendron, of Conklin, New York, has since pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges. He is being held without bail.

Retired Buffalo Police Department cop Aaron Salter, pictured right, was working as a store security guard and shot suspect Payton Gendron, who returned fire and killed Salter 

Salter was one of 10 people killed in the attack at the Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo, New York, which police now believe was racially-motivated

Salter was one of 10 people killed in the attack at the Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo, New York, which police now believe was racially-motivated

Salter first joined the Buffalo Police Department after graduating from high school.

He has previously been hailed for his work putting out a kitchen fire and catching the arsonist as he tried to escape in 1992.

Gendron, of Conklin, New York, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges

Gendron, of Conklin, New York, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges

Four years later, Salter and his partner responded to a burglary  in progress when they were confronted by a 25-year-old man, who approached them from behind and pointed a loaded 12-gauge shotgun at them.

Salter’s partner quickly responded, shooting at the assailant, but missing.

Still, Salter said, those quick reflexes likely saved his life.

‘My first reaction was to duck,’ he told the Buffalo News at the time. ‘I don’t enjoy looking down the barrel of a shotgun, and if it hadn’t been for my partner shooting first, it would have been a golden opportunity to shoot us.

‘My partner probably saved us.’ 

Salter, a father of three, later retired from the Buffalo Police Department, and decided to take a job at the supermarket where his late mother, Carol, worked a s a cashier for 15 years before serving as a front-end manager until her retirement in 1986, according to the Daily Beast.

She and her late husband, Aaron Salter Sr., then opened a dry cleaners, which they ran until it closed in 1998. 

Outside of his police work, Salter was said to be interested in green energy and had set up his own company

Outside of his police work, Salter was said to be interested in green energy and had set up his own company

Outside of his police and security work, Salter was said to be interested in green energy and had set up his own company.

‘I’m always working on my vehicles and or my project of running engines on water for the last four years or so,’ he wrote on LinkedIn. ‘I would like to realize my dream of getting cars to run off of water using my newly discovered energy source some day.’

By 2015, he shared a video on Facebook of his hydrogen-electrolysis powered Ford F150 pickup truck, which he said could be started with gasoline and then switched over to run on water.

‘The guys used to laugh at me,’ he said in an interview that same year as he described a solar array he once installed at his home.

His family now remembers him as a hero, with his son, Aaron Salter III telling the Daily Beast: ‘Today is a shock.

‘I’m pretty sure he saved some lives today. He’s a hero.’

Johnny Juliano, who claims to be one of his cousins, also posted a tribute to the late police officer, describing him as ‘a true hero who risked his life trying to defend those helpless during a racist attack/ mass shooting . 

‘Retired BPD who was loved by all you [truly] will be missed and remembered for your heroic gesture,’ he wrote. 

And another of Salter’s cousins, Adam Bennefield, also said the family was extremely shaken up by what had happened.

‘I don’t think anybody could ever anticipate something like this happening,’ Bennefield, 44, said. ‘I don’t think anybody can. Everybody’s hurt right now, everybody’s upset.’

In 2019, his son Aaron Jr had shared fears of a mass shooting on Facebook after an incident in which a white gunman traveled hours across the state of Texas and killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, where the vast majority of the population is Hispanic.

‘If i hear another story of someone mass shooting innocent people or like yesterday the 20 year old in Missouri who when to Walmart with and assault rifle and 100 rounds and recorded himself making comments to people shopping I’m gonna loose my mind we can’t even do everyday s*** without having to watch our backs and that’s scary af! 

‘The sad thing is I feel like a crazy close to home is gonna do something soon and I’m not ready for that. We as people of the so called USA need to do better this s*** is nuts!’

On of Salter's cousins described him on Facebook as a 'true hero who risked his life trying to defend those helpless during a racist attack/mass shooting'

On of Salter’s cousins described him on Facebook as a ‘true hero who risked his life trying to defend those helpless during a racist attack/mass shooting’

His son, Aaron Salter III, had previously expressed his concerns about a mass shooting

His son, Aaron Salter III, had previously expressed his concerns about a mass shooting

Also killed in the attack was Ruth Whitfield, was a mother to four children including former Buffalo fire commissioner, Garnell W. Witfield, 64.

 ‘My mom was the consummate mom. Mother was a mother to the motherless. She was a blessing to all of us. She loved God and taught us to do the same thing,’ the former commissioner told the Buffalo News.

Witfield recalled how his 88-year-old father who is currently in a Buffalo nursing home would work multiple jobs in order for his wife to stay home and raise the couple’s kids.

She’d take my brother and I to football practice, twice a day sometimes, and she never missed a game. And that was just us. She did that kind of thing for all the children.’

Witfield explained how his mother would continue to take care of her husband despite being in a residential home.

‘She went there every day. She took care of our dad as she’d done her whole married life. She brought him clean clothes, clipped his nails, shaved him, cut his hair. She did everything,’ Whitfield said.

He also told how his mother’s faith inspired him and pushed him in his career with the Buffalo Fire Department.

‘She inspired me to be a man of God, and to do whatever I do the best I could do. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.’

Ruth Witfield, 86, the mother of former Buffalo fire commissioner Garnell Witfield was also killed in the shooting spree

Ruth Witfield, 86, the mother of former Buffalo fire commissioner Garnell Witfield was also killed in the shooting spree

On Saturday evening, it was revealed how Grendon’s shooting was ‘racially motivated’ and that he had live-streamed the attack on camera.

The gunman, who was wearing body armor and a helmet, was arrested after the massacre, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told a news conference.

Eleven of the victims were African Americans.

The gunman shot four people in the parking lot of the Tops supermarket, three of them fatally, then went inside and continued firing, Gramaglia said.

When police arrived, the shooter put the gun to his neck, but was talked down and surrendered.

Stephen Belongia, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office, told the news conference that the shooting is being investigated as a hate crime.

‘We are investigating this incident as both a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism,’ Belongia said.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia spoke at a press conference after the shooting

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia spoke at a press conference after the shooting

Buffalo Police were seen on the scene of the supermarket on Saturday after receiving calls of a shooting at the store

Buffalo Police were seen on the scene of the supermarket on Saturday after receiving calls of a shooting at the store

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia described the attack as ‘pure evil.’

‘It was straight up racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community,’ he said.

When asked what information led authorities to term the attack a hate crime, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said they had evidence indicating ‘racial animosity,’ but declined to elaborate.

US media outlets have reported that officials are investigating a detailed ‘manifesto’ that was posted online before the shooting, in which the suspect outlines his plans and racial motivations for the attack.

A semi-automatic weapon used by the shooter also had a racial epithet written on it as well as the number 14 — a reference to a white supremacist phrase — according to local daily The Buffalo News, citing a local official.

District Attorney Flynn said in the press conference that the shooter used an ‘assault weapon’ — a term that can apply to types of rifles and shotguns in New York — but did not specify which kind.

Flynn’s office said in a tweet Saturday night that the suspect — identified as Payton Gendron of Conklin, New York — had been arraigned on a charge of first-degree murder, which carries a sentence of life without parole. He is being held without bail.

Asked during the earlier press conference if the shooter could face the death penalty at the federal level, the US attorney for the Western District of New York, Trini Ross, said: ‘All options are on the table as we go forward with the investigation.’

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