(BUFFALO, N.Y.) — Two new civil lawsuits were filed Wednesday on behalf of loved ones of those killed and more than a dozen grocery store employees and customers who survived the 2022 racially motivated mass shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
The lawsuits filed in Erie County State Supreme Court name as defendants several social media companies; the business that sold the teenage killer, Payton Gendron, the AR-15-style weapon used in the massacre; and the company from which he purchased the body armor he was wearing during the rampage. The lawsuits allege the companies “facilitated and equipped the shooter for his racist attack.”
The lawsuits also name Gendron’s parents as defendants.
One of the lawsuits, obtained by the Buffalo News, was filed on behalf of Wayne Jones, the only child of one of the 10 murder victims, 65-year-old Celestine Chaney. Jones’ lawsuit seeks to hold the defendants accountable for his mother’s wrongful death, alleging unlawful and irresponsible actions were “taken by numerous bad actors, all of whom enabled Gendron to commit a hateful massacre.”
Lawyers for Everytown Law — the legal arm of the nonprofit group Everytown for Gun Safety founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to advocate for gun control — and the law firms of Bonner & Bonner and Ryder Law filed the lawsuits on behalf of the plaintiffs.
“The lawsuit is to stop the next family from feeling like we’re feeling. I have to deal with this every day. My family has to deal with this every day,” Jones said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon held at a Buffalo church.
Jones said he learned of his mother’s death from a live-stream video Gendron posted online that was shared on other media platforms. He held up a screengrab image of his mother lying dead in the aisles of the Tops store, saying, “I want everyone to feel and remember what I have to feel every day, every night when I close my eyes.”
“This is my reality,” Jones said. “I can’t get this out of my mind. It goes nowhere. So, maybe if you put yourself in my shoes, maybe we can get something changed.”
Fragrance Harris Stanfield, a Tops worker who survived the shooting and is one of 16 plaintiffs in the second lawsuit filed on behalf of survivors, said she continues to cope with the mental trauma from witnessing the carnage.
“Just breathing is trauma now,” Harris Stanfield said during the news conference, adding she has not returned to work since the shooting.
Among the defendants named in the lawsuits are Google, YouTube and their parent company Alphabet Inc.; and Reddit. The lawsuits accuse the companies of creating algorithms that promote the “angry, violent, and extremist content” that Gendron allegedly consumed.
Others named as defendants were Vintage Firearms, the Endicott, New York, gunshop that legally sold Gendron the Bushmaster XM-15 rifle he used in the massacre; and RMA Armament Inc., the online company that sold Gendron the body armor he wore during the attack.
Also named as a defendant was Mean Arms LLC, a Georgia company. The lawsuits allege Mean Arms manufactured a lock on Gendron’s gun that prevented it from accepting large-capacity magazines that are illegal in New York, while at the same time allegedly “touting how easily the lock can be removed” to enable rifles to accept large-capacity magazines, according to the lawsuits.
“We have the deepest sympathies for the victims and families of the horrific attack at Tops grocery store in Buffalo last year. Through the years, YouTube has invested in technology, teams, and policies to identify and remove extremist content. We regularly work with law enforcement, other platforms, and civil society to share intelligence and best practices,” a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday to ABC News.
Other defendants listed in the lawsuits did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.
Following a previous lawsuit stemming from the Buffalo attack, RMA Armament president Blake Waldrop told ABC News, “RMA Armament products are intended for the protection of law-abiding private citizens, police departments and government partners. We are surprised to be named in this lawsuit and believe the claim lacks merit.”
Shortly after the May 14, 2020, mass shooting, the owner of Vintage Firearms, Robert Donald, also expressed surprise about the rampage.
“I couldn’t believe it. Nobody envisions a young man doing this,” Donald said at the time. “I mean, who would do this. I’ve been open since 1993 and this is the first time there has been any kind of a problem.”
The shooting unfolded on May 14, 2020, at a Tops supermarket on Buffalo’s predominantly Black east side.
Gendron, a self-professed white supremacist, planned the massacre for months — including making multiple trips to scout out the Tops store he targeted, a more than three-hour drive from his home in Conklin, New York, according to prosecutors. Wearing tactical gear, body armor and wielding an AR-15 style rifle he legally purchased and illegally modified, Gendron committed the rampage on a Saturday afternoon when prosecutors said he knew the store would be full of Black shoppers.
The attack was caught on a Tops supermarket surveillance camera and a helmet camera worn by Gendron that he used to broadcast the massacre on the streaming platform Twitch. Prior to the attack, he also posted a racist screed online containing the names of past mass shooters he admired.
Killed in the attack were Roberta Drury, 32; Margus Morrison, 52; Andre Mackniel, 53; retired Buffalo police officer Aaron Salter Jr., 55; Geraldine Talley, 62; Celestine Chaney, 65; Heyward Patterson, 67; Katherine “Kat” Massey, 72; Pearl Young, 77; and Ruth Whitfield, 86. Three people were wounded in the massacre.
Gendron, now 19, pleaded guilty in November to 15 charges in all, including domestic terrorism motivated by hate, murder and attempted murder. He still faces more than two dozen federal charges, some of which carry the possibility of the death penalty.
He was sentenced in the state court in February to life in prison without the possibility of parole by a judge who told him he deserved “no mercy.” The U.S. Department of Justice has yet to decide whether it will pursue the death penalty in the federal case against Gendron.
The lawsuits are the latest in a series of legal actions taken by survivors of the massacre and the families whose loved ones were killed.
In May, just days before the one-year mark since the shooting, loved ones of those killed in the rampage filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a number of social media companies alleging they facilitated the teenage killer’s white supremacist radicalization by allowing racist propaganda to fester on their platforms.
In July, survivors of the attack and other family members of those murdered filed a separate lawsuit against social media companies, firearm manufacturers and body-armor makers they alleged all helped Gendron “load that gun.”
The city of Buffalo also filed a lawsuit late last year against the nation’s biggest firearm manufacturers, alleging they are contributing to a surge in gun violence plaguing the city.
In October last year, New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office released a report alleging several online platforms played roles in the Buffalo mass shooting by radicalizing Gendron as he consumed voluminous amounts of racist and violent content, and then by allowing him to live stream the massacre and encourage copycat attacks.
“The tragic shooting in Buffalo exposed the real dangers of unmoderated online platforms that have become breeding grounds for white supremacy,” James said in a statement accompanying the release of the 2022 report she contends is “further proof that online radicalization and extremism is a serious threat to our communities, especially communities of color.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who issued a referral asking James to study the role online platforms played in the Buffalo attack, issued a statement when James’ report was released, calling it “a chilling account of factors that contributed to this incident and, importantly, a road map toward greater accountability.”
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