The 18-year-old suspect, who is suspected of setting fire to a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, has reportedly made offensive and hateful statements after his arrest.
Police officers told CNN that Payton Gendron’s statements during his initial questioning showed that he was filled with hatred towards the Black community.
On Saturday, a gunman killed 10 people and injured three others at the Tops Friendly Markets store in a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo. Officials said 11 of the 13 people shot were Black.
Mr Gendron is charged with first degree murder in New York, serving a life sentence without parole. He pleaded not guilty in court on Saturday night.
“The evidence we have uncovered so far does not mislead that this is an absolute racial hate crime. “It will be prosecuted as a hate crime,” said Buffalo police commissioner Joseph Gramaglia. “This is someone with hatred in their heart, soul and mind.”
Department officials added that the statements describing the motive and mood were unambiguous and showed hatred towards Blacks.
Investigators say they have already uncovered evidence that Mr Gendron was trying to investigate previous hate crimes in the US.
Erie County district attorney John J Flynn said evidence gathered by investigators showed “racial hatred” was behind the attack. The county sheriff, John Garcia, described the crime and the suspect as “complete devil.”
The gunman, wearing tactical gear, live-streamed Saturday’s attack on gaming platform Twitch. Authorities say they think he traveled about 200 miles (320 km) from the white suspect’s home outside of Binghamton to the store where the attack took place.
Mr. Gendron had threatened to shoot Susquehanna Valley Central High School in Broome County, New York, in 2021. But Mr Gramaglia said the threat was not racial in nature.
“A school official reported that this very troubled young man made statements that he wanted to shoot either at graduation or some time after,” Buffalo News said, citing an official.
The revelation prompted school officials to summon the New York state police for evaluation, who had detained Mr. Gendron under state mental health law.
Saturday’s mass shooting caused loss of life and grief in the community, as well as sparked anger at the way Mr Gendron surrendered peacefully, with many arguing that the attacker would be shot to death before being arrested. Black.
“We don’t know how he got out of here alive,” said Jeffrey Watkins of the Cold Spring neighborhood. Buffalo News. “If a black man had a screwdriver he would have been killed.”
Another witness, Katherine Crofton, said the assailant had left the store when the police shouted at her. “He just stood there. It was like he wanted them to shoot him.”
Mr Gramaglia said the officers responded as they were trained.
“Any opportunity we have – which we teach – to calm a situation… we don’t want to shoot anybody,” Gramaglia said.
Mayor Byron W Brown said the police action saved many lives. He said the shooter “came here to take the lives of as many Blacks as possible.”
“So Buffalo Police saved so many lives yesterday,” he said at a press conference on Sunday afternoon. “Buffalo Police responded two minutes after this incident started. Without their quick response and bold action, more lives would probably have been lost yesterday.”