Witnesses to Buffalo Mass Shooting Sue Social Media and Gun Companies

Sixteen people who witnessed a white supremacist kill 10 Black victims in a shooting last year at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store have sued social media and firearms-related companies to hold them liable for causing emotional trauma.

Their complaint, filed on August 15 in a state court in Buffalo, names as defendants YouTube and Reddit, where the gunman, Payton Gendron, was allegedly radicalized through exposure to harmful content and gained information that helped him carry out his attack.

Also sued were three retailers—Mean Arms, Vintage Firearms and RMA Armament—that allegedly sold the firearm equipment and body armor Gendron used to kill 10 Black people at the Tops grocery store on May 14, 2022.

Alphabet and Google, which own YouTube, are also defendants, as are Gendron’s parents. The civil lawsuit was filed by the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety. Due to the defendants’ negligence, Gendron “gained the racist motivation, tools and knowledge necessary for him to commit the mass shooting,” according to the complaint.

A YouTube spokesman on Wednesday said the company had “deepest sympathies” for the victims and families and has been invested for years in finding and removing extremist content.

The lawyer for RMA Armament said he looked forward to vindicating his client in court, while also calling the attack “reprehensible” and saying RMA “condemns everything the shooter stood for.”

A lawyer for Mean Arms declined to comment. The other defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This latest lawsuit is different, as the plaintiffs did not suffer serious physical injuries, nor were they related to anyone who did. They include store employees and customers who said the shooting left them with long-lasting emotional distress as well as depression, insomnia, lethargy, and nightmares.

One plaintiff, Fragrance Harris Stanfield, said she was unable to return to work at Tops or as a substitute teacher in Buffalo schools, and has had panic attacks at stores in which she could not locate an exit.

Another, DennisJanee Brown, said she feels uneasy at work in the presence of white people, while Rose Marie Wysocki said she has felt “enormous guilt and anger” believing she survived because she was white.

Gendron, who was 18 years old when he carried out the murders, was sentenced in February 2023 to life in prison without parole after pleading guilty to charges including murder and terrorism motivated by hate. There is no death penalty in the state of New York.