Prosecutors have charged a white man with federal hate crimes in the killings of two African Americans at a grocery store last month in Kentucky.
A federal grand jury in Louisville returned three hate crime charges against 51-year-old Gregory Bush on Thursday afternoon.
US Attorney Russell Coleman said Bush is charged with killing two people – 69-year-old Maurice Stallard and 67-year-old Vicki Lee Jones – and attempting to kill a third person based on their race. Bush was also indicted on three firearms charges.
Police said Bush walked into a Kroger grocery store with a .40-caliber handgun on October 24 and shot one person. He then killed another in the car park before exchanging fire with an armed man and then fled.
According to Steve Zinninger, whose father was waiting outside the supermarket the day of the shooting, the gunman walked up to his father, who drew his gun, and said, “Please don’t shoot and I won’t shoot you, whites don’t kill whites.”
Coleman said there has been a “spectrr that reared its head and laid across this community” since the shooting.
“This is not acceptable,” Coleman said at a news conference on Thursday. “No Kentuckian should be frightened to go shopping, no Kentuckian should be frightened to go worship, no Kentuckian should be frightened to go to school.”
Coleman said the FBI has been involved in investigating the shooting since the day it happened.
Bush has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges in state court and is being held on a $5m cash bond. Prosecutors have not made a decision on seeking the death penalty. Bush’s lawyer could not be reached for comment on Thursday afternoon.
Bush had stopped at a historically black church in suburban Louisville before heading to the supermarket. He was seen on surveillance video trying to enter the church, but the door was locked and he left.
The pastor of that church, Kevin Nelson, said his flock is simply hoping “to see justice be done”.
“We have to learn how to get along with each other and generally accept each other’s differences,” he said.
Sadiqa Reynolds, president of Louisville’s Urban League, said after the US attorney’s announcement Thursday that “we cannot live in a community with hate, and there must be severe consequences for that”.
“Racism is real and we see that our country is very, very divided,” Reynolds said. “That is not going to go away.”
The Kentucky shooting occurred just days before an anti-Semitic massacre in Pittsburgh and during a weeklong mail bombing spree that saw a Florida man target high-profile liberal political figures, Donald Trump critics and the news outlet CNN.