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Buffalo shooting survivors say social media companies and a body armor maker enabled the killer

Aug 16, 2023, 2:14 PM

FILE — Police secure an area around a supermarket where several people were killed in a shooting,...

FILE — Police secure an area around a supermarket where several people were killed in a shooting, May 14, 2022 in Buffalo, N.Y. Multiple lawsuits have been filed in the wake of the shooting claiming tech and social media giants like Facebook, Amazon and Google bear responsibility for radicalizing shooter Payton Gendron.(Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP, File)

YouTube, Reddit and a body armor manufacturer were among the businesses that helped enable the gunman who killed 10 Black people in a racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, according to a pair of lawsuits announced Wednesday.

The complementary lawsuits filed by Everytown Law in state court in Buffalo claim that the massacre at Tops supermarket in May 2022 was made possible by a host of companies and individuals, from tech giants to a local gun shop to the gunman’s parents. The suits were filed Tuesday on behalf of the son of a 65-year-old victim and a group of survivors who say they’re still traumatized more than a year later. Everytown Law is the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

“I still live with those images every day. It’s a part of my life. For the rest of my life, I will have it in my mind,” Fragrance Harris Stanfield, who was working that day at Tops, said at a news conference. She is among the 16 employees and other survivors who are plaintiffs in one of the suits.

The other lawsuit was bought on behalf of Wayne Jones, the son of Celestine Chaney, who was killed while shopping for strawberry shortcake ingredients with her older sister.

Payton Gendron was 18 years old when he opened fire at the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo on May 14, 2022, killing 10 Black people and wounding three other people. He had driven 200 miles (322 kilometers) from his home in Conklin, New York, after conducting online research to choose a target.

The lawsuits accuse the defendants of helping provide motivation, equipment or knowledge to the gunman.

RMA Armament is named for providing the body armor Gendron wore during the shooting. Vintage Firearms of Endicott, New York, is singled out for selling the shooter the weapon used in the attack. The lawsuit claims Mean LLC manufactured an easily removable gun lock, offering a way to circumvent New York laws prohibiting assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

YouTube, named with parent companies Alphabet Inc. and Google, is accused of contributing to the gunman’s radicalization and helping him acquire information to plan the attack. Similarly, the lawsuits claim Reddit promoted extreme content and offered a specialized forum relating to tactical gear.

Paul and Pamela Gendron, meanwhile, “abdicated their duties” as parents of a son with history of disturbing behavior, the lawsuits allege.

“We aim to change the corporate and individual calculus so that every company and every parent recognizes they have a role to play in preventing future gun violence,” said Eric Tirschwell, executive director of Everytown Law.

Calls, emails and a text seeking comment were sent to the defendants or their attorneys.

A spokesperson for YouTube said they had the “deepest sympathies” for the victims and survivors.

“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,” spokesperson José Castañeda said in an email.

The operator of Vintage Firearms texted that he had no comment.

Gendron is serving a prison sentence of life without parole after pleading guilty to crimes including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate. A federal criminal hate crimes case is still pending, as U.S. Justice Department officials consider whether to seek the death penalty if Gendron is convicted.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed in the shooting’s wake. Last month, victims’ relatives filed a lawsuit claiming tech and social media giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Google bear responsibility for radicalizing Gendron.

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Buffalo shooting survivors say social media companies and a body armor maker enabled the killer