BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — More than a year after the Tops mass shooting, the victims’ loved ones and survivors of that day are dealing with the lasting trauma.
Dozens have now come forward with civil lawsuits against several defendants for the suffering that day has caused.
Wayne Jones learned from the Internet that his mother, Celestine Chaney, was killed on May 14, 2022. He watched the gunman’s live stream and saw his mother get shot to death — an image he says replays in his mind every day.
“Every night when I close my eyes, this is the image that I see. Every night,” Jones said. “Put yourself in my shoes. Maybe we can get something changed around here.”
Jones is the plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed against multiple defendants for their alleged roles in the Tops mass shooting. The second lawsuit was filed on behalf of 16 survivors of that day, shoppers and employees, who say they ran, hid and prayed for their lives as gunshots rang out around them.
Fragrance Harris Stanfield and her daughter, Yahnia Brown-McReynolds, were working at the store that day. Brown-McReynolds had just returned from maternity leave; May 14, 2022 was her first day back at work.
Brown-McReynolds has trouble sleeping now and has nightmares when she does fall asleep. The lawsuit states she avoids large crowds, and mostly stays home except to go to work.
Harris Stanfield said her life has been upended since the shooting, saying she has been in a zombie-like state. According to the lawsuit, she suffers from panic attacks when she’s at a store and loses sight of an exit.
“I haven’t been back to work. And sometimes people ask me, too, ‘How was work?’ I’m like, I haven’t been to work since May 14, 2022. How do you think it is?” Harris Stanfield said.
The lawsuits are seeking damages from the companies and people who “facilitated and equipped the shooter for his racist attack.”
That includes Vintage Firearms, the Broome County gun shop where the shooter purchased a Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle, equipped with what attorneys call an “easy-to-remove magazine lock,” manufactured by Georgia-based company Mean Arms — also named in the lawsuit.
“Mean Arms falsely marketed the lock as a way to comply with New York’s ban on assault weapons. In reality, the lock provided a way for the shooter to easily circumvent that ban,” said Eric Tirschwell, executive director of Everytown Law, one of the organizations representing the plaintiffs. “After purchasing the AR-15, the shooter removed the lock in minutes, using a simple tool you can buy on Amazon for a few dollars. With the lock removed, he was in possession of his weapon of choice: a fully functioning, but illegal, assault weapon.”
The gunman’s parents are also named in the lawsuits, as well as search engine Google, and online platforms Reddit and YouTube.
“We allege that in the months and years leading up to the attack, the design features and recommendation algorithms on YouTube and Reddit addicted the shooter to social media, amplified racist content and radicalized the shooter to carry out his massacre, specifically and intentionally against the Black community of Buffalo’s East Side,” Tirschwell said.
Tirschwell said these lawsuits aim to change the “corporate and individual calculus” so that businesses and parents recognize the role they have in preventing future gun violence.
“If they act recklessly and irresponsibly in ways that fuel our gun violence epidemic, they will be held accountable,” he said.
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