By Sarah Boxer, Dakin Andone and Laura Ly, CNN
The 18-year-old accused of killing 10 Black people at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket last month apologized to his family for carrying out the mass shooting, writing in a note he “had to commit this attack” because he cared “for the future of the White race,” according to court documents.
Details about the handwritten note, found by the FBI in Payton S. Gendron‘s bedroom, were revealed in a criminal complaint filed Wednesday by prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York, as the US Justice Department announced multiple federal hate crime charges against the suspect. Some charges carry the potential for the death penalty.
“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,” the complaint says.
The defendant was shackled and wore an orange jumpsuit and black face covering when he made his first appearance in federal court Thursday morning before US Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. Gendron looked down as the charges were read — two US marshals monitoring him. He did not enter a plea.
The section of court saved for family of the shooting victims was full, with around 20 people, all of them Black. Most family members looked straight at Gendron when he came in and throughout the proceeding. There were audible sniffles and some wiped away tears.
Raymond and Garnell Whitfield, sons of 86-year-old shooting victim Ruth Whitfield, said their mom went to every event throughout their lives, so they needed to be in court.
“This is very difficult — laying eyes on the person who shot your mother down in the grocery store,” Raymond Whitfield told CNN before the hearing.
The judge assigned a federal public defender after questioning Gendron about his financial situation and reviewing a financial affidavit. The defendant acknowledged having two shares of Disney stock and a checking and savings account.
When asked by the judge how much money he had in each account, Gendron replied, “Sixteen dollars.”
Schroeder noted that he was advised that the attorneys appointed to Gendron be “learned counsel,” meaning that they be familiar with death penalty cases, should the Justice Department decide to seek the death penalty.
The judge said that death penalty cases require the hiring of experts, including psychologists, chemists, and others at the expense of taxpayers, and expressed his hope that the government “undertake steps that will reasonably bring about a quick decision” on the death penalty.
Assistant US Attorney Joseph M. Tripi said the decision on whether to seek the death penalty would be made by the attorney general.
“That process will be serious. It will be thorough. It will be fair, and we will ensure that it is as expeditious as we can make it, while balancing all… involved in terms of the defendant’s rights, the public’s rights, the court’s concerns in making that decision,” Tripi said.
Gendron waived his right to detention and preliminary probable cause hearings and was returned to the custody of the state — where he has been held on a slew of criminal charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Along with the handwritten note described in court documents on Wednesday, FBI agents found a receipt for a candy bar purchased at the Tops Friendly Market from March 8, when authorities believe he traveled to the store at least three times, the complaint says, making sketches of the store’s layout and counting the number of Black people who were there.
Just over two months later, on May 14, Gendron returned to the store, where authorities say he shot 13 people, who ranged in age from 20 to 86. Eleven were Black and two were White, Buffalo police said.
The federal charges announced Wednesday include 10 counts of hate crime resulting in death, three counts of hate crime involving bodily injury, 10 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a violent crime, and three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during a violent crime, according to a criminal complaint.
The latter three counts carry a potential death sentence. But Attorney General Merrick Garland has put a temporary hold on federal executions for the department to review its policies and procedures. Asked if federal prosecutors would seek the death penalty, Garland said the families of the victims and survivors of the shooting would be consulted.
CNN has reached out to attorneys for Gendron for comment.
News of federal charges came Wednesday as Garland visited the site of the massacre and families of the victims.
“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 after meeting with family members.
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CNN’s Brynn Gingras, Sonia Moghe and Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.