New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday that her office will investigate social media channels used by Buffalo shooting suspect Payton Gendron.
James announced on Twitter that the investigation will encompass platforms “including but not limited to” Twitch, 4chan and 8chan which Gendron, 18, allegedly used to “plan, promote and stream” the shooting at a Tops grocery store that killed 10 people.
“This terror attack again revealed the depths and dangers of these platforms that spread and promote hate without confidence,” she said. “We are doing everything in our power to stop this dangerous behavior now and ensure it never happens again.”
Federal authorities believe they have found more than 600 Discord messages written by Gendron in which he appeared to have planned the attack months in advance and questioned why he had not yet been approached by the FBI.
“The fact that an individual can post detailed plans to commit such an act of hate without consequence and then stream it for the world to see is bone-chilling and unfathomable,” James said. “As we continue to mourn and honor the lives that were stolen, we are taking serious action to investigate these companies for their roles in this attack.”
The messages, which officials believe are authentically linked to Gendron, also included racist and anti-Semitic language. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said the Justice Department would investigate the shooting as a hate crime and an “act of racially motivated violent extremism.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that she had issued a referral to James to investigate the social platforms that “legitimized” a far-right conspiracy theory known as the “Great Replacement” that Gendron referenced in his messages and a lengthy manifesto.
The referral allows James to “subpoena witnesses and compel the production of documents” to investigate matters of public safety.
“Social media platforms must take responsibility and be held accountable for favoring engagement over public safety,” Hochul said.
Also Wednesday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said a local 911 dispatcher had been placed on administrative lead for her “inappropriate” and “unacceptable” handling of a 911 call placed from someone inside the store at the time of the shooting.
The allegation came from an assistant office manager at Tops, Latisha, who said she whispered into the phone as she said she heard the shooter nearby, but was scolded by the dispatcher, who ultimately hung up on her.
“She was yelling at me, saying, ‘Why are you whispering? You don’t have to whisper,” Latisha said. “And I was telling her, ‘Ma’am, he’s still in the store. He’s shooting. I’m scared for my life. I don’t want him to hear me. Can you please send help?’ She got mad at me, hung up in my face.”
Latisha said she then called her boyfriend so he could call 911 on her behalf.
Erie County said the incident is being investigated and “immediate action was taken” noting that the individual will remain on administrative leave pending a disciplinary hearing which is set to happen “within a couple of weeks.”
Poloncarz added that Erie County is pushing for the dispatcher to be terminated.
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