President Joe Biden said hate “remains a stain on the soul of America” as US political leaders condemned what police are treating as a racially motivated mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, which left 10 people dead.
In a speech on Sunday at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, Biden said that the suspect, named as 18-year-old Payton Gendron, was “a lone gunman armed with weapons of war and a hate-filled soul”.
“We must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America. Our hearts are heavy once again but our resolve must never ever waver,” Biden said.
Local police and FBI said the evidence indicated that the shooting was a case of “racially motivated violent extremism” and a hate crime. The gunman is alleged to have published a racist manifesto online, and livestreamed his attack on Twitch, a platform popular with gamers.
Gendron, who is white, is accused of shooting 13 people, killing 10 and injuring three. Eleven of the victims were black and two were white.
The shooting spree began at about 2.30pm eastern time on Saturday when a gunman in tactical gear armed with an assault rifle got out of a vehicle and allegedly shot four people in the car park at a Tops store, killing three, Buffalo police commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said.
He then entered the store and exchanged fire with a security guard, a retired Buffalo police officer, killing him, before continuing his rampage. The gunman later gave himself up to police after at first pointing the weapon at himself.
In a short court appearance hours after the shooting, Gendron entered a plea of not guilty to multiple charges of first-degree murder, which carries a life sentence without parole.
Buffalo police commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Gendron had been questioned and then released by local police last year after making threatening comments at his high school. He had at that time been referred for mental health evaluation.
“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake this is an absolute racist hate crime that will be prosecuted as a hate crime,” Gramaglia said on Sunday.
Buffalo mayor Byron Brown said that Gendron, who police said lived several hours from Buffalo, “came here with the expressed purpose of taking as many black lives as he possibly could”.
New York governor Kathy Hochul urged Congress to pass “a smart national policy” on gun control.
“It’s a challenging time politically but that doesn’t mean that we should stand down and let the criminals win,” Hochul said.
Hochul also criticised social media companies, saying that they had “much more to do” to police hate speech, after a racist manifesto was circulated online that was allegedly written by the gunman, setting out the reasons for his rampage.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, told CNN that introducing new gun restrictions was “a huge priority for us” but lamented that the 60 votes required in the Senate to break a filibuster remained an obstacle. She promised that the House of Representatives would take up legislation to “strengthen efforts to combat domestic terrorism”, but did not give details.
Gendron is alleged to have broadcast the shooting on Twitch, the live-streaming platform owned by Amazon. The company took down the video less than two minutes after the violence started, Twitch said.
“Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against violence of any kind and works swiftly to respond to all incidents. The user has been indefinitely suspended from our service, and we are taking all appropriate action, including monitoring for any accounts rebroadcasting this content,” the company said in a statement.