A group prays in the street on Sunday near the site of the mass shooting on Saturday at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
June 15 (UPI) -- A White gunman who killed nearly a dozen Black shoppers in a racist mass shooting attack at a Buffalo supermarket last month was indicted Wednesday on federal hate crimes charges, which would qualify him for the death penalty.
The Justice Department announced the charges against 18-year-old Payton Gendron, which include 26 counts of hate crimes related to the 10 people he killed at the Tops supermarket on May 14.
The federal complaint was filed in the Western District of New York. It says that Gendron's goal was to "kill as many Black people as possible."
"Today we charge this defendant with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, alleging he murdered 10 innocent people and attempted to murder three others with a firearm because he wanted to kill and injure Black people," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in remarks announcing the charges.
The charging document says that Gendron had wanted to "prevent Black people from replacing White people and eliminating the White race." It notes that there's probable cause to believe that the shooter committed the killings with malice aforethought, which qualifies them as hate crimes.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said during the press conference that Gendron is accused of selecting his target in a zip code with the highest percentage of Black people closest to where he lived.
"He selected the Tops store because it is where a high percentage and high density of Black people can be found and he made a map of the inside of the Tops store 'and decided the best plan of attack for [the] highest chance of success," Garland said, quoting the criminal complaint.
The United States' top prosecutor said Gendron arrived at Tops in a tactical-style helmet, camouflage, body armor and a GoPro video camera and targeted Black people to kill.
"At one point, he aimed his rifle at a White male Tops employee, who had been shot in the leg and injured. Instead of shooting the White employee, the gunman apologized to him before continuing his attack," Garland
Some 60 shots were fired during the shooting, according to ballistics evidence recovered from the scene.
After the shooting, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul asked New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate social media platforms that sought to give credibility to the far-right "Great Replacement" conspiracy theory.
In the months before the attack, police say Gendron wrote a manifesto that detailed a plan to assault Black people at the Tops grocery store.
If he's convicted on the federal charges, Gendron could face the death penalty -- although that's extremely unlikely in New York, which hasn't executed an inmate in nearly 70 years. Further, the federal government has reimposed a moratorium on executions after they resumed under President Donald Trump.
Miguel Cerrillo is the father of Miah Cerrillo, a fourth-grade student who survived the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Miah also testified to the House committee at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Pool Photo by Jason Andrew/UPI | License Photo