Justice Dept files hate crimes charges against alleged Buffalo shooter

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Washington – The Justice Department has filed multiple federal hate crimes charges against alleged Buffalo mass shooter Payton Gendron. 

Prosecutors in the Western District of New York charged the 18-year-old White man with 26 counts of hate crimes and firearms offenses, some of which carry the possibility of the death penalty.

According to the criminal complaint, which was filed Wednesday, “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 details Gendron's movements from the grocery store parking lot into the building, where he allegedly fired at mostly Black patrons and a security guard. At one point, the complaint says he turned his gun toward another White man lying on the ground with an injured leg. Instead of shooting the victim, the alleged shooter merely said “sorry” and continued shooting elsewhere, the affidavit says. It went on to say that etched on the rifle used in the shooting allegedly were names of others who had committed similar atrocities and phrases including “Here's your reparations!” and “The Great Replacement.”

During the attack, investigators say survivors hid in a stock room, a conference room, a freezer and a dairy cooler.

Following the massacre, the FBI says it recovered a letter in the suspect's home, apologizing for the attack and explaining he “had to commit this attack” because he cares “for the future of the White race.” Investigators revealed in the charging documents that before the mass shooting, 18-year-old Gendron allegedly visited the grocery store on a number of occasions and “counted the number of Black people present inside and outside the store, observed the presence of two armed Black security guards, and noted the number of Black people in the area of the cash registers.”

The charges accuse Gendron of committing the violence based on the victims' race.  

He's being charged with 10 counts of hate crime resulting in death, three counts involving bodily injury and attempt to kill, 10 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder and in retaliation to a crime of violence and three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during and in retaliation to a crime of violence.

Just over a month after 18-year-old Gendron opened fire inside a Buffalo Tops supermarket, killing 10 and wounding three others, Attorney General Merrick Garland is traveling to the site of the massacre Wednesday to pay his respects to the victims' families. 

In the wake of the massacre, Garland announced the Justice Department would investigate the matter as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism. Investigators allege the suspect detailed his plans and his racist motivation for the violence in hundreds of pages of writings he posted online shortly before the shooting. According to authorities, 11 of the 13 individuals who were shot were Black. 

A state grand jury earlier this month indicted the alleged shooter with charges of domestic terrorism motivated by hate and 10 counts of first-degree murder. The accused shooter, Payton Gendron, has been in custody since the May 14 shooting and has pleaded not guilty. 

Garland is traveling with Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke, whose division is a part of the federal hate crime investigation. The group will stop at the Tops market before meeting privately with victims' families and survivors of the mass shooting. 

At a press conference in Buffalo, Garland said that the Justice Department “agrees with the president that 18-year-olds should not be able to purchase a gun like this,” in reference to the AR-15-style firearm used by Gendron. 

He noted that Congress is in the middle of “meaningful negotiations” about gun control and added, “We look forward to assisting Congress in any way we can in bringing those to fruition.”

U.S. Attorney Trini Ross for the Western District of New York, whose office has federal jurisdiction over the Buffalo area and filed the charges on Wednesday, joined Garland at the news conference.

In recent weeks, the Justice Department has announced new initiatives aimed at  combating hate crimes, using grants to create state-run hate crime reporting hotlines and to support community-based approaches to reducing their frequency. The department has also established the first anti-hate crimes resources coordinator over the last year, who has been tasked in part with facilitating community awareness of hate crimes.

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