The white teenager who allegedly killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket last month is the first person in state history to be charged with domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Payton Gendron, 18, was arraigned on 25 counts in Erie County Court in Buffalo Thursday afternoon, including 10 counts of first-degree murder.
Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn emphasized in a post-hearing news conference that the highest charge Gendron faces is domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree, a crime enacted in the state in November 2020. Flynn said Gendron is the first person in the state ever charged with the crime.
"That charge only has one sentence if, in fact, the defendant is found guilty of that charge and that is life without parole," Flynn said. "There's no minimum. There's no maximum. That is the only punishment on that charge."
In addition to the domestic terrorism charge, a grand jury returned a 25-count indictment against Gendron, which also includes 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime, three counts of attempted murder as a hate crime and one count of criminal possession of a weapon.
Gendron's lawyers entered a plea of not guilty to all of the charges on his behalf. They did not comment following the hearing.
Flynn said that he could have filed just one count of first-degree murder, which would have satisfied all of the victims.
"But I chose not to do that. I chose to charge 10 separate counts to list by name the 10 victims because they deserve to be listed by name," Flynn said. "And he (Gendron) needs to be held accountable for all 10."
The domestic terrorism motivated by hate statute was adopted in 2020 by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It followed a mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart in 2019, an attack that targeted Latinos. The statute is named for Josef Neumann, who was stabbed to death at a rabbi’s home during Hanukkah event of 2020.
The charges against Gendron reflects the white supremacist rhetoric and invective law enforcement sources told ABC News investigators found on social media posts linked the suspect, including a belief in the racist conspiracy theory known as replacement.
Gendron is accused of fatally shooting the six women and four men inside a Tops supermarket on May 14 "because of the perceived race and/or color" of the victims, according to the indictment. He also allegedly shot and wounded three people.
Flynn noted that two of the three victims who survived the shooting are white, but that attempted murder charges with a hate crime enhancement were filed on behalf of all the wounded victims.
"I can still charge a hate crime on the attempted murder for two white people as well because of his alleged intent," Flynn said of Gendron.
The FBI is also conducting a parallel investigation, which the Department of Justice said could lead to federal hate crime and terrorism charges.
During Gendron's last court appearance on May 19, he was led into the courtroom in chains on his legs and hands and surrounded by numerous court officers. He appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest under his jumpsuit.
Gendron was initially charged with one count of murder a day after the massacre at a Tops Friendly Market. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered to be held without bail.
Investigators allege Gendron drove three hours from his home in Conklin, New York, and spent the day before the rampage conducting a final reconnaissance on the store before committing the mass shooting on a Saturday afternoon.
Authorities allege Gendron was wielding an AR-15-style rifle, dressed in military fatigues, body armor and wearing a tactical helmet with a camera attached when he stormed the store around 2:30 p.m., shooting four people outside the business and nine others inside. Police said the suspect fired a barrage of 50 shots during the massacre.
Gendron allegedly livestreamed the attack on the gaming website Twitch before the company took down the live feed two minutes into the shooting.
Among those killed was 55-year-old Aaron Salter Jr., a retired Buffalo police officer who was working as a security guard at the supermarket. Authorities said Salter fired at the gunman, but the bullets had no effect due to the bulletproof vest the suspect wore.
Buffalo police officers arrived at the store one minute after getting the first calls for an active shooter and confronted the suspect, who responded by placing the barrel of the rifle to his chin and threatening to kill himself, police officials said. Officers de-escalated the situation and talked Gendron into surrendering, according to authorities.