The 18-year-old suspected of opening fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York state, reportedly made disturbing and hateful statements following his arrest.
Payton Gendron’s statements during his initial questioning showed he was filled with hatred towards the Black community, police officers told CNN.
On Saturday, a gunman killed 10 people and wounded three others at the Tops Friendly Markets store, which is in a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Buffalo. Out of the 13 people shot, 11 were Black, officials have said.
Mr Gendron has been charged with first-degree murder – which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole in New York. He pleaded not guilty in court on Saturday night.
“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake that this is an absolute racist hate crime. It will be prosecuted as a hate crime,” Buffalo police commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said. “This is someone who has hate in their heart, soul and mind.”
Officials of the department added that the statements describing motive and state of mind were clear and showed hatred towards Black people.
Investigators say they have already uncovered evidence that Mr Gendron had tried to study previous hate crimes in the US.
Erie County district attorney John J Flynn said the evidence collected by investigators suggested “racial animosity” was behind the attack. The county’s sheriff, John Garcia, described the crime and the suspect as “pure evil”.
Dressed in tactical gear, the gunman livestreamed Saturday’s attack on the gaming platform Twitch. Authorities say they believe the white suspect drove about 200 miles (320 km) from his home outside Binghamton to the store where the attack took place.
In 2021, Mr Gendron had made threats about carrying out a shooting at Susquehanna Valley Central High School in Broome County, New York. But Mr Gramaglia said that threat was not racial in nature.
“A school official reported that this very troubled young man had made statements indicating that he wanted to do a shooting, either at a graduation ceremony, or sometime after,” Buffalo News reported, citing an official.
The revelation prompted school officials to call New York state troopers, who took Mr Gendron into custody, under the state’s mental health law, for evaluation.
Saturday’s mass shooting, which has led to heartbreak and sorrow in the community at the loss of lives, has also triggered anger at way Mr Gendron was able to surrender peacefully, with many arguing the gunman would have been shot dead before being arrested if he was Black.
“We don’t know how the hell he made it out of here alive,” Jeffrey Watkins of the Cold Spring neighbourhood told Buffalo News. “If a Black person would have had a screwdriver in his hand, he’d have been killed.”
Another witness, Katherine Crofton, said the shooter walked out of the store while the police were screaming at him. “He just stood there. It was like he wanted them to shoot him.”
Mr Gramaglia said the officers responded in the manner that they were trained to do.
“Any opportunity that we have – and that’s what we teach – to de-escalate a situation… we are not looking to shoot anyone,” Mr Gramaglia said.
Mayor Byron W Brown said the police action saved many lives. He said the shooter “came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he could”.
“So the Buffalo Police saved a lot of lives yesterday,” he said in an afternoon news conference on Sunday. “The Buffalo Police responded in less than two minutes after this incident began. If not for their swift response and courageous actions, more lives probably would have been lost yesterday.”