Friday, March 31, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Hate crime charges filed on Buffalo supermarket massacre

Authorities have had the teenage shooter in custody since his arrest at the scene on May 14.

(CN) — The teenager arrested after killing 10 people, most of them Black, at the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo last month will face federal hate crime charges.

Prosecutors brought the criminal complaint against Payton Gendron, 18, on Wednesday morning, charging 10 counts of a hate crime resulting in death, three counts of a hate crime involving bodily injury and an attempt to kill.

The complaint, which also charges Gendron with using and discharging a firearm to commit murder, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.

At a press conference in Buffalo to discuss the indictment, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the federal case against Gendron is eligible for the death penalty. Garland also noted, however, that there are regulations the government must follow while also consulting with the victims’ families. He declined to say what the families told him about their wishes for the case. 

“I came here specifically to talk to the families to express our support and our deepest sympathy for what happened to them and tell them exactly what we are charging in the complaint,” Garland said Wednesday.

The federal charges comes two weeks after a grand jury indicted Gendron on charges of carrying out domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a state offense punishable by a sentence of up to life imprisonment without parole. Gendron was quickly arraigned on a murder charge after the shooting. He has pleaded not guilty.

FBI agent Christopher Dlugokinski wrote in an affidavit attached to the complaint 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.”

Investigators arrived at that conclusion, Dlugokinski explained, by drawing from manifesto in which Gendron admitted to having targeted the Buffalo grocery store because it was located in an area with a high population of Black residents. 

The FBI searched Gendron’s home after the shooting, uncovering a letter to his family in which Gendron said he had to make the approximately 3 1/2 hour drive and carry out the shooting at the grocery store because he was concerned about the white race’s future. 

Gendron livestreamed his Saturday afternoon attack at the market, firing 60 shots from an AR-15-style Bushmaster XM-15 rifle on which he had written racial slurs and phrases like “Here’s your reparations!” The affidavit says Gendron apologized during the rampage to a white store employee who was shot in the leg.

Gendron shot a second store employee, who is also white. Nevertheless, the government included those victims in the count when levying hate crime charges.

“The doctrine of transferred intent permits the transfer of the intent to kill when a perpetrator shoots at one person with the intent to kill, but inadvertently strikes another person,” the affidavit said in a footnote.

Department of Justice officials who spoke at Wednesday's press conference all were emphatic that the public should see the shooting motivated by white supremacist ideas as an attack on democracy. Some invoked the history of their office, which was founded in the years following the Civil War when the government faced an increase in court cases.

Black Americans were being terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan during that period of Reconstruction, Garland noted, and part of the department’s early mission was to protect democracy and protect those individuals from violence and intimidation from white supremacists. 

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said the Department of Justice’s top priority today is to hold perpetrators of hate crimes accountable.

“Hate crimes are insidious,” Gupta said. “They instill fear across entire communities and they undermine the principles upon which our democracy stands.”

U.S. Attorney Trini Ross for the Western District of New York, the first Black woman appointed to the position, said she vowed to secure justice for the victims and the community of Buffalo, a community where she said she was born and raised. 

“This process may not be as fast as some would hope, but it will be thorough it will be fair,” Ross said. “It will be comprehensive and it will reflect what is best about our community and about democracy.”

Attorneys representing Gendron in state court proceedings did not immediately return requests for comment.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.