Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old who is accused of opening fire at a Buffalo supermarket on May 14, will face 26 counts of hate crimes and firearms offenses, which carry the potential of the death penalty, the Department of Justice announced.
“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," according to the criminal complaint filed in the Western District of New York
The charges include 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of hate crimes involving bodily injury and attempt to kill, 10 counts of using a firearm to commit murder during and in retaliation to a crime of violence and three counts of using and discharging of a firearm during and in retaliation to a crime of violence.
"Hateful acts of violence terrorize not only the individuals who are all attacked but entire communities," Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters in Buffalo. "At the Justice Department, we view confronting hate crimes as both as our legal and our moral obligation."
Garland revealed that the suspect squeezed off about five dozen shots from his Bushmaster XM-15 rifle during the deadly assault on Tops Friendly Market.
"He repeatedly targeted, shot and killed Black people," the prosecutor said. "Ballistics evidence recovered at Tops indicated that the gunman fired approximately 60 shots during the attack."
Garland, who toured a memorial at the shooting scene and met with loved ones of victims on Wednesday, said a decision on possibly seeking capital punishment is still a long way off.
"Those families and survivors will be consulted," the nation's top prosecutors said.
Gendron on May 14 allegedly shot 13 people — 11 of whom are Black and two who are white — at Tops in a predominantly African American neighborhood of Buffalo, police said.
The shooting was allegedly motivated by the “great replacement” theory, the false idea that a cabal is attempting to replace white Americans with nonwhite people through immigration, interracial marriage and, eventually, violence.
During the May 14 carnage, Gendron wounded a white supermarket employee and expressed remorse for injuring that worker.
"At one point he aimed his rifle at a white male Topps employee, who had been shot in the leg and injured," Garland said. "Instead of shooting the white employee, the gunman apologized to him before continuing his attack."
It wasn't immediately clear how any federal prosecution would be timed in relation to state charges.
Gendron has already been indicted on 25 state criminal counts that include murder and attempted murder as a hate crime and weapons possession.
A spokeswoman for Erie County District Attorney John Flynn declined comment on Wednesday.
NBC legal analyst Danny Cevallos said he's confident the state case would go forward ahead of any federal prosecution.
"If I'm the federal prosecutors, I probably want to wait for the state case and get the benefit of that evidence and a conviction," Cevallos said. "A (federal) hate crime is essentially a crime plus the additional element of motive. "
Lawyers for the defendant could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.