(BUFFALO, N.Y.) — Loved ones of those murdered in the 2022 racially motivated mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store filed what their lawyers described as a “landmark” lawsuit Wednesday, alleging social media companies, firearm manufacturers and body-armor makers all helped the teenage killer “load that gun.”
The lawsuit, filed in the state Supreme Court in Buffalo, names several big tech companies as defendants, including Meta, the parent company of Facebook; Amazon, Instagram, Reddit and Google, the parent company of YouTube. Also named as defendants were Vintage Firearms, the Endicott, New York, gun dealer where mass shooter Payton Gendron legally purchased the semi-automatic Bushmaster XM-15 used in the rampage, and RMA Armament, the online company that sold Gendron his body armor.
Website and apps, such as 4Chan, Discord and Twitch, as well as Gendron’s parents, Paul and Pamela Gendron, were also named as defendants.
“Payton Gendron pulled the trigger, but he did so only after years of exposure to addictive social media platforms, which led to his radicalization and encouragement — via the Internet — to purchase weapons and body armor to commit this heinous attack,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and a court-ordered injunction requiring social media platforms named in the legal action to “remedy the unreasonably dangerous features in its social media products, provide adequate warnings to minor users and parents that its products are addictive and pose a clear and present danger to unsuspecting minors.”
National civil rights attorney Ben Crump, one of the lawyers representing the victims’ families, said at a news conference Wednesday that the lawsuit is one more step in the pursuit of justice for the 10 people murdered on May 14, 2022, at a Tops supermarket on the east side of Buffalo.
“Even though Payton Gendron fired the weapon that killed all their loved ones, and critically injured others, there were many people who helped him load that gun,” Crump said. “It is our objective … to make sure that everybody who loaded that gun is held to account. They were the conspirators.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the families of fatal shooting victims Aaron Salter Jr., 55; Margus Morrison Jr., 52; Roberta Drury, 32; Pearl Young, 77; Geraldine Talley, 65; Heyward Patterson, 67; and Ruth Whitfield, who at 86 was the oldest victim killed. Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include those wounded in the shooting, including Tops workers, Christopher Braden, 56, and 21-year-old Zaire Goodman.
A similar lawsuit was filed in May naming many of the same companies as defendants on behalf of the families of Patterson, Katherine “Kat” Massey, 72; and Andre Mackneil, 53.
Kim Salter, the widow of Aaron Salter, a retired Buffalo police officer and Tops security guard who died after confronting Gendron during the massacre, said she and the other families who lost loved ones are still grieving.
“We live with this each and every day, each and every moment of the day,” Kim Salter, the lead plaintiff in the new lawsuit, said at Wednesday’s news conference. “I stand here still grieving my husband’s loss because he sacrificed his life, not only for his family, but for a whole lot of people. And I honor him, I honor my husband.”
In October last year, New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office released a report alleging several online platforms, including some of those named in the lawsuit filed Wednesday, 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 deadly attack on the website Twitch, which is owned by Amazon. James’ report contended that Twitch was “weaponized” to publicize and encourage copycat attacks.
Gendron pleaded guilty in November to 15 charges, including murder and attempted murder. He is the first person in state history to be charged with domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a crime he also pleaded guilty to. He was sentenced in February to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During the sentencing hearing, Gendron, now 19, apologized to the victims’ families and claimed he was brainwashed by online racist propaganda, saying, “I believed what I read online and acted out of hate.”
Gendron still faces federal hate crimes charges stemming from the shooting. Federal prosecutors have yet to decide whether to pursue the death penalty.
Amy Keller, another attorney representing the families in the latest lawsuit, slammed the companies named in the legal action, saying, “Corporations have put profits before people. We have detailed in our complaint how social media companies knew there was a problem” and failed to address it.
A spokesman for Google referred ABC News to a statement the company made in May when the previous lawsuit was filed by the victims’ families.
“We have the deepest sympathies for the victims and families of the horrific attack at Tops grocery store in Buffalo last year,” the Google statement reads. “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.”
The other companies named in the suit did not respond to requests from ABC News for comment.
RMA Armament told ABC News in May when it was included in the previous lawsuit, that it was surprised to be included in the lawsuit and the claims lack merit.
“RMA Armament products are intended for the protection of law-abiding private citizens, police departments and government partners,” RMA’s president, Blake Waldrop, said in a statement to ABC News. “We are surprised to be named in this lawsuit and believe the claim lacks merit. We do understand this has been a difficult and painful year for the families and the Buffalo community.”
Meta previously said that as of Aug. 15, 2022, it identified more than 1,151 “militarized social movements” mostly associated with the far-right conspiracy group QAnon and removed about 4,200 pages, 20,800 groups, 200 events, 59,800 Facebook profiles and 8,900 Instagram accounts.
“We continue to strengthen our enforcement by identifying additional militarized social movements and new terms associated with QAnon,” Meta said. “We’ll continue consulting experts to inform our strategy and will identify and remove content accordingly.”
Discord also released a statement in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, saying, “We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families, and we will do everything we can to assist law enforcement in the investigation.”
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