The 18-year-old suspected of targeting and fatally shooting 10 Black people in Buffalo, New York, wrote in what are believed to be his online journals that he learned how to illegally modify his rifle by watching YouTube videos. The suspect appeared to link to the videos in Discord chat logs, and the videos were still available on YouTube as of Thursday evening — five days after the shooting.
The advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund called on YouTube to remove these videos, saying that they violate YouTube’s community guidelines banning videos that show how to install gun accessories like high-capacity magazines. The group also urged YouTube to strengthen how it enforces its gun policies in response to the journals and videos.
“Technology platforms, such as YouTube, have a responsibility to users and the public at-large to ensure that posts do not incite violence or promote extremist content,” the group wrote Thursday evening in a letter to YouTube.
The letter was also sent to the New York attorney general, who has announced an investigation into the role tech platforms may have played in the shooting. The announcement of New York’s investigation did not specifically mention YouTube.
YouTube’s firearms policy says users can’t post videos that show how to install certain gun accessories, including high-capacity magazines. In a statement on Friday, the company said the videos that the suspect allegedly used to modify his rifle don’t violate those policies.
YouTube said it did remove other videos the suspect posted because the company said they included links to third-party websites that violated its policies.
“We’re committed to enforcing our firearms policy, which prohibits content intended to instruct viewers how to make firearms or to manufacture accessories that convert a firearm to automatic fire,” YouTube said in the statement.
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In December, an NBC News investigation found dozens of YouTube videos with step-by-step instructions for how to make untraceable “ghost guns” at home, despite a company policy banning such videos. In February, five Democratic senators sent a letter asking YouTube to better enforce its firearms policies.
“The policies are there, but they’re not enforcing them,” said Justin Wagner, Everytown’s director of investigations. “They’re swimming with videos that show how to modify a gun to make it fire faster and do more damage. These aren’t hard to find — anyone can put terms into the search bar and find them.”
The primary suspect in the shooting, Payton S. Gendron of Conklin, New York, appeared to have kept a detailed journal of his plans for the attack on the chat platform Discord under the username Jimboboiii — the same name he is accused of using to livestream the deadly shooting on a separate platform, Twitch.
Law enforcement officials have confirmed that the suspect maintained and used accounts on Twitch, Discord and Steam.
On Jan. 11, the Discord account posted a link to a YouTube video that showed how to install a magazine lock, which makes an AR-15-style rifle legal in New York without special registration by locking the magazine in place to prevent rapid reloading.
Two minutes in, the video explains how to remove the magazine lock with a specific drill bit.
It appears that the user referred to the video to remove the magazine lock from his own gun.
“Same fixed mag release at vintage firearms, says you have to drill it out to get it,” the user believed to be the suspect wrote below the link. “Speedout drill bit on hole and it will come right out.”
Eight days later, on Jan. 19, the user wrote in the chat logs about buying a Bushmaster XM-15. One image that accompanies the post shows the rifle, complete with a red magazine lock, sitting next to a drill and the same bits mentioned in the YouTube video.
In the next picture, the magazine has been removed. And in the next, the rifle is fitted with a removable extended magazine able to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition at a time — illegal in New York state.
The user appeared to post at least one other video that shows how to remove a state-mandated magazine lock. Another video he linked to describes how to install a magazine release to reload a rifle quickly.
The gunman in Saturday’s shooting at Tops Friendly Market reloaded at least once, officials have said.
One of the suspect’s final Discord posts before the attack shows what appear to be three high-capacity magazines in the pocket of his driver-side door.
In all, the suspect linked to 13 YouTube videos related to guns, body armor or shooting tactics, according to NBC News’ review of his Discord account.
Many of the videos fit squarely within YouTube’s guidelines.
For example, one of the videos — which does not appear to violate YouTube’s policies — shows how to shoot through car safety glass. It has more than a million views.
“The glass at Top’s is most likely not safety glass, so it should behave live [sic] a front windshield would I think,” the suspect wrote below the link. “Bullet will penetrate with some deformation but still have enough energy to penetrate flesh and such.”
The livestream of the attack and photos from the scene show several rounds were fired into the store through the front windows.
Discord has said it is doing everything it can to assist law enforcement.
The suspect appeared in court Wednesday. A prosecutor indicated that a grand jury had issued an indictment, although it wasn’t immediately clear what the charge was and how many counts were listed in the complaint.