Suspect in racist mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket faces federal hate crime charges

Alleged mass shooter Payton S. Gendron faces multiple federal hate crime charges carrying the potential of the death penalty in the killing of 10 people last month at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, the US Justice Department said on June 15.

By Sonia Moghe and Ray Sanchez, CNN

(CNN) -- Alleged mass shooter Payton S. Gendron faces multiple federal hate crime charges carrying the potential of the death penalty in the killing of 10 Black people last month at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, the US Justice Department said Wednesday.

The charges against the White suspect came as Attorney General Merrick Garland visited the site of the massacre and met with the families of the victims.

"No one in this country should have to live in fear that they will go to work or shop at a grocery store and will be attacked by someone who hates them because of the color of their skin," Garland said after meeting with family members.

A criminal complaint filed by prosecutors in the US Attorney's Office for the Western District of New York stated that, "Gendron's motive for the mass shooting was to prevent Black people from replacing white people and eliminating the white race, and to inspire others to commit similar attacks." The complaint detailed extensive plans Gendron allegedly made for the assault.

Gendron is accused of shooting 13 people, ages 20 to 86, at the Tops Friendly Market on May 14. Eleven were Black and two were White, Buffalo police said.

The 18-year-old suspect is charged with 10 counts of hate crime resulting in death, three counts of hate crime involving bodily injury, 10 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a violent crime, and three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during a violent crime, according to a criminal complaint.

The latter three counts carry the potential of the death penalty.

Garland, who has put a temporary hold on federal executions while the department reviews policies and procedures, would have to make a decision on whether to seek the death penalty.

Asked whether federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty in this case, Garland said, "The Justice Department has a series of procedures it follows ... The families and the survivors would be consulted."

CNN has reached out to attorneys for Gendron for comment.

Gendron is expected to appear in Buffalo federal court Thursday for an initial appearance before US Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr.

Garland, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke visited the memorial adjacent to the supermarket for about 10 minutes on Wednesday. Garland laid 10 roses at the site, one representing each person killed.

"In the days and weeks since the attack, we have all witnessed the strength of this community's bonds, its resilience, and its love," Garland told reporters. "I am humbled to have just felt that firsthand in my discussions with the families. Hate-fueled acts of violence terrorize not only the individuals who are attacked, but entire communities. Hate brings immediate devastation and it inflicts lasting fear."

Paul Abbate, FBI deputy director, joined the attorney general in meeting with families and said the investigation is continuing to determine whether anyone assisted the shooter.

Gunman planned attack for years, complaint says

During a search of the gunman's home, federal authorities found a laptop with a document containing a detailed plan of the attack he had allegedly been planning for years. The document said he "actually got serious" about the assault in January, according to the complaint.

In the document, Gendron allegedly called himself a White man "seeking to protect and serve my community, my people, my culture, and my race" and said he has never been diagnosed with a mental disability or disorder. He allegedly stated that his goal was to kill "as many blacks as possible" and to "avoid dying."

In a handwritten note found by agents in his bedroom, Gendron apologized to his family for committing "this attack" and said he did it because he cared "for the future of the White race," the complaint said. Agents also found a receipt in his bedroom for a candy bar purchased at Tops on March 8, along with apparent sketches of the store's layout.

Authorities believe he visited the store multiple times, including the day before the attack and again, two and a half-hours before he allegedly began shooting. The complaint said he "counted the number of Black people present inside and outside the store."

Hours before the shooting, the complaint said, Gendron at the store "observed a 'healthy amount of old and young' Black people."

During the rampage, Gendron aimed a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle at a White employee of the supermarket who had already been shot in the leg, the complaint said. Instead of shooting him, Gendron said "sorry" to that victim "before moving on through the rest of the store in search of more Black people to shoot and kill," according to the complaint.

The complaint described how multiple customers and employees "took shelter in a stock room, a conference room, a freezer and a dairy cooler" while others fled through a rear door.

The gunman unleashed about 60 shots during the attack, according to the complaint.

On June 1, a grand jury in New York returned a 25-count indictment against Gendron. He is facing 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime and three counts of attempted murder as a hate crime, according to court documents. Gendron is also facing a charge of domestic terror and a weapons charge, according to court documents. He pleaded not guilty to the indictment.

The suspect arrived at the supermarket on the afternoon of May 14 heavily armed and wearing tactical gear -- including a tactical helmet along with plated armor, police said. He also had a camera that was live streaming his actions.

Using an assault weapon, the gunman shot four people outside of the grocery store, three fatally, authorities said.

When he entered the store, he exchanged fire with an armed security guard, who authorities said was a retired Buffalo police officer. The security guard died of his injuries. The suspect shot eight more people in the store, six of whom died.

The complaint said the rifle used in the assault had writings on it, including racial slurs and the phrase "The Great Replacement."

Gendron wrote that he selected the Buffalo ZIP code with the highest percentage of Black people closest to where he lived -- and a store with a large number of Black people, according to the complaint.

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