Buffalo supermarket gunman charged with federal hate crimes

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Investigators work the scene after a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo.
AP File

By CAROLYN THOMPSON Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The white gunman who killed 10 Black people in a racist attack at a Buffalo supermarket was charged Wednesday with federal hate crimes and could face the death penalty if convicted.

The criminal complaint filed Wednesday against Payton Gendron coincided with a visit to Buffalo by Attorney General Merrick Garland. He met with the families of the people who were killed and placed a bouquet of white flowers tied with a yellow ribbon at a memorial outside the store, which has been closed since the attack.

“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 at a news conference addressing the federal charges.

Garland, who halted federal executions last year, did not rule out seeking the death penalty against Gendron. He said the Justice Department would follow long-established procedures in weighing whether to seek capital punishment and that the “families and the survivors will be consulted” in the process.

Three of 86-year-old victim Ruth Whitfield’s children said they told Garland at their private meeting that they appreciated him being there and wanted to make sure he didn’t view the Buffalo shooting “as a singular case.”

“This is a problem throughout America,” her son, former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr. said.

“It doesn’t stop with justice for our mother and the other nine victims. It’s how do we prevent these horrific crimes from happening, from breaking the hearts of other families,” his brother Raymond Whitfield said.

Gendron, 18, was already facing a mandatory life sentence without parole if convicted on previously filed state charges in the May 14 rampage at Tops Friendly Market.

The federal hate crimes case is based partly on documents in which Gendron laid out his radical, racist worldview and extensive preparation for the attack, some of which he posted online shortly before he started shooting.

FBI agents executing a search warrant at Gendron’s home the day after the shooting found a note in which he apologized to his family for the shooting and stated that he “had to commit this attack” because he cares “for the future of the White race,” according to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint.

Agents at the Conklin, New York home also found a receipt for a candy bar purchased from the supermarket on March 8, the day Gendron said in an online diary he went to scout out the store, as well as hand drawn sketches of the store’s layout, the affidavit said.

The affidavit also includes detailed accounts of Gendron’s plot to attack the store, which he documented in detail in the online diary, and the attack itself, which he live streamed on social media.

Shortly before he opened fire, Gendron invited a small group of people to see his plans for the attack. It wasn’t clear if any of the people who accessed Gendron’s diary or saw his livestream did anything to alert the authorities or attempt to stop the attack.

Garland and Deputy FBI Director Paul Abbate said investigators are looking into who Gendron may have been in communication with prior to the shooting.

In his writings, Gendron embraced a baseless conspiracy theory about a plot to diminish white Americans’ power and “replace” them with people of color, through immigration and other means.