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Aaron Salter Jr. was a retired Buffalo police officer who worked as a security guard at Tops Friendly Markets, and in his spare time, he worked on an invention to fuel cars with water electrolysis, which breaks water down into hydrogen and oxygen to use the hydrogen as fuel.
There’s no evidence that Salter was killed for his work. Salter was among other victims in the Buffalo mass shooting who were targeted for being Black.
Aaron Salter Jr. was working as a security guard at Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, New York, on May 14 when an 18-year-old man opened fire on shoppers. Police say Salter, 55, fired at the gunman several times before he himself was slain — one of 10 people shot to death by a white man who police say was motivated to kill Black people.
But a claim on Facebook is spinning a different tale about Salter, a retired police lieutenant who has been hailed as a hero, suggesting that he was killed because he was working on making a water-powered vehicle.
"Mr. Salter was just on the news about a month ago explaining an invention he made, which was an engine that runs completely off water, no fuel needed," said a man in a Facebook video posted May 30 and shared tens of thousands of times. "A completely hydrogen-fuel(ed) system. And we all know what happened to the last person who decided to come forth with an invention similar to this one."
That’s an apparent reference to Stanley Meyer, an inventor of a water-powered fuel cell for car engines. Meyer, who died in 1998, has been at the center of a decades-old conspiracy theory that he was killed by the government for his invention. We’ve fact-checked that claim to be False.
Like the claim about Meyer, this video about Salter was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
It’s true that Salter was working to power vehicles with water. But there is no evidence that work made him a target in a mass shooting.
In a May 16 call to law enforcement, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray was clear about what investigators believe motivated these killings: "From everything we know, this was a targeted attack, a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism."
Payton Gendron, armed with three firearms and tactical gear, drove more than 200 miles from his hometown, Conklin, New York, to the Tops grocery store, police said. He shot four people in the parking lot of the store, three of whom died, then went inside and shot eight more, police say. Video that Gendron live streamed from the scene captured glimpses of Salter’s attempts to halt the rampage, according to reporting by The Buffalo News.
An 180-page screed that was posted online and attributed to Gendron detailed his belief in the "great replacement theory," a racist conspiracy that claims immigrants and people of color will replace white people in the country in order to outvote them and replace them racially. The document described Black people as "replacers."
None of the victims in the mass shooting are named in the online document, and there is no evidence that Gendron knew who his victims were ahead of time. But 11 of the 13 killed or injured in the attack were Black, including Salter.
Friends and family remembered Salter for his nearly 30 years on the Buffalo police force.
"Even in his retirement, he literally made Tops his priority," Salter’s son, Aaron Salter III, told the Democrat & Chronicle newspaper. "He made sure he was there and he was making sure that the store was safe at all times."
Salter was also working to complete his bachelor’s degree at Canisius College and, according to his LinkedIn profile, ran a business called AWS Hydrogen Technologies, LLC. While the Facebook video described Salter as being on the "news" for his car technology, it appears to have drawn clips from two 2015 YouTube videos in which Salter spoke about his work applying water electrolysis, the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, to fuel vehicles.
"I'm always working on my vehicles and or my project of running engines on water for the last four years or so," Salter wrote on his LinkedIn profile. "I would like to realize my dream of getting cars to run off of water using my newly discovered energy source some day."
In one of the YouTube videos, Salter showed the hydrogen electrolysis generator he had built in the back of his truck and gave a step-by-step presentation of how the generator worked, along with the truck's original gas engine, to power the vehicle. Salter also tested how long the vehicle could run on hydrogen by using only the generator. In another video, he told a colleague that his interest in alternative energy sources started with solar power.
A viral conspiracy shared across social media, including in a Facebook post, claims that Aaron Salter Jr. was killed in the Buffalo mass shooting because of his work creating a water-powered engine for vehicles.
Salter was indeed working on water-powered vehicle technology. But there is no evidence backing the claim that he was targeted because of it. Salter, along with nine other victims, was shot and killed by a gunman who police say targeted them because they were Black. Three other people were injured in the attack.
We rate the social media claim False.
Facebook post, May 30, 2022
TikTok video, May 31, 2022
PolitiFact, No, Stanley Meyer was not assassinated by the Pentagon, June 3, 2021
The Washington Post, Buffalo shooting suspect wrote of plans five months ago, messages show, May 16, 2022
TikTok search results for "Aaron Salter conspiracy," accessed June 1, 2022
NPR, The Buffalo suspect had threatened his high school last year, police say, May 15, 2022
PolitiFact, What is the ‘great replacement theory’ linked to the Buffalo shooter? May 16, 2022
Democrat and Chronicle, Buffalo security guard Aaron Salter Jr. remembered for heroic actions, big heart in tribute, May 26, 2022
The Buffalo News, Aaron Salter Jr., victim in mass shooting, to receive bachelor's
CBS News, Retired Buffalo police officer Aaron Salter Jr. posthumously awarded Medal of Honor, May 26, 2022
The Daily Beast, ‘He saved some lives’: Cop-turned-guard killed in battle with Buffalo gunman, May 14, 2022
KIRO7 News, Buffalo supermarket shooting: Who was Aaron Salter Jr., security guard killed by gunman? May 15, 2022
Aaron Salter LinkedIn profile, accessed May 31, 2022
YouTube, Aaron Salter, AWS Hydrogen Technologies LLC, Sept. 5, 2015
Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association, Using electrolyzers to produce renewable hydrogen, March 30, 2020
YouTube, Aaron Salter being interviewed about his hydrogen fuel system, Sept. 6, 2015
Power Technology, Hydrogen: Timeline, July 1, 2020
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