LOCKPORT, New York—After serving as a Buffalo police officer for 30 years, Aaron Salter Jr. spent the last four working as a security guard at the Tops Friendly Markets store on the east side of the city.
That’s where he was Saturday afternoon when a gunman stalked in with a military-style assault rifle in his hands and hate in his heart and opened fire.
Authorities said Salter acted like the cop he was: He pulled out his weapon and tried to take down the gunman, whom police have identified as 18-year-old Payton Gendron.
But Gendron was wearing body armor and Salter’s bullets couldn’t pierce it. Instead, police say the assailant returned fire and killed Salter—whose family was mourning a man city officials said was an undeniable “hero” on a horrific day.
“Today is a shock,” his son, Aaron Salter III, told The Daily Beast in Lockport, a suburb of Buffalo.
“I’m pretty sure he saved some lives today. He’s a hero.”
Salter, who leaves behind three children, joined the Buffalo Police Department right out of high school.
In 1996, he faced down another gunman—and cheated death.
“My first reaction was to duck,” he told The Buffalo News after a burglary suspect pointed a 12-gauge shotgun in his face. “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.”
Adam Bennefield, a cousin of Salter’s who lives nearby in Buffalo, said the family was extremely shaken up by Saturday’s mass shooting.
“I don’t think anybody could ever anticipate something like this happening,” Bennefield, 44, told The Daily Beast. “I don’t think anybody can. Everybody’s hurt right now, everybody’s upset.”
Bennefield said he always had tremendous respect for his cousin, who had deep knowledge not just about police work, but also “things outside of being an officer.”
In retirement, Salter was pursuing his dream of building vehicles that run on green energy and had a company called AWS Hydrogen Technologies.
“I’m always working on my vehicles and or my project of running engines on water for the last four years or so,” his LinkedIn profile reads. “I would like to realize my dream of getting cars to run off of water using my newly discovered energy source some day.”
In a 2015 video, Salter gave viewers a tour of his hydrogen-electrolysis powered Ford F-150 pickup, which he said could be started with gasoline and then switched over to run on water.
“The guys used to laugh at me,” Salter said in an online interview that same year, describing a solar array he once installed at his home.
Salter’s late mother, Carol, worked as a cashier at a Tops market in Buffalo for 15 years, then served as front-end manager until her own retirement in 1986. She and her late husband, Aaron Salter, Sr., then opened a dry cleaners, which they ran until it closed in 1998.
In a surreal twist, Aaron Salter, III had long worried about an attack just like the one that killed his dad.
“If i hear another story of someone mass shooing innocent people or like yesterday the 20 year old in Missouri who when to Walmart with and [sic] assault rifle and 100 rounds and recorded himself making comments to people shopping I’m gonna loose [sic] my mind,” he wrote on Facebook in August 2019. “[W]e can’t even do everyday shit 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.”