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Wrongful-death lawsuit filed as the one-year mark since the Tops mass shooting nears

Buffalo civil attorney John Elmore said the lawsuit would focus on social media platforms and weapons manufacturers.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A wrongful-death lawsuit has been filed on behalf of three families of victims of the May 14 Tops mass shooting.

Buffalo civil attorney John Elmore had been building a team of attorneys to represent the families, with the intent of suing social media platforms and weapons manufacturers. The official complaint was filed early Friday morning in State Supreme Court in Erie County. 

This lawsuit comes one day after the New York State Attorney General filed a lawsuit against a gun accessory manufacturer. 

"Named in the lawsuit are the owners of six social media platforms and streaming services; an Iowa-based manufacturer of body armor; a New York-based gun store; a Georgia-based manufacturer of custom gun accessories; and (Payton) Gendron’s parents," a news release said early Friday.

The Tops shooter live-streamed the massacre on Twitch for several minutes before it was pulled down. The video of that stream was also republished on multiple social media websites. The six social media platforms named in the complaint are Meta (Facebook), Snap Inc, Alphabet (Google), Discord, Reddit, and Amazon (Twitch).

Survivor Latisha Rogers, 34, is among those who are part of the lawsuit, as well as the families of three victims: 53-year-old Andre Mackneil; 72-year-old Katherine “Kat” Massey; and 67-year-old Heyward Patterson.

The lawsuit is being led by John Elmore and his Buffalo firm with the aid of the Giffords Law Center and the Social Media Victims Law Center. They held a press conference Friday morning to explain the lawsuit and their plan to target the social media algorithms that they say force repetitive and sometimes harmful content on users.

Which in the case of Peyton Gendron and other racist mass shooters can lead to them being radicalized.

"These folks are created by social media platforms whose very business models and profit models put their own profits over the safety of the public," said Adam Skaggs from the Giffords Law Center, founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was the victim of an assassination attempt.

"If you don't have access to something, you just don't you don't have that motivation," said Barbara Massey Mapps, the sister of Katherine Massey.

Social media companies have largely been shielded by a 25-year-old part of the U.S. Code called Section 230, which makes them immune from lawsuits over user content. What makes this lawsuit unique, the attorneys said, is how it targets the algorithms created by social media companies, which they say results in harmful content being proliferated online.

Elmore told 2 On Your Side in April that the federal government is trying to pursue the death penalty for Peyton Gendron, but U.S. Attorney's Office says it is an option they were just considering it at that point.

While the families said justice would ultimately be for the gunman, Peyton Gendron to be put to death, preventing others from feeling their pain would be something.

"Unless and until these companies are held accountable unless they have to pay the true costs that their dangerous and defective products are inflicting on our nation, on our people, on our communities they're not going to change their behavior," said attorney Matthew Bergman from the Social Media Victims Justice Center.

The lawsuit filed Friday is one of several seeking financial compensation for the 5/14 families in civil court. Buffalo-based attorney Terry Connors told 2 On Your Side his case involving several other families would be filed "soon."

It would also seek damages from social media companies and gun manufacturers but he said they are waiting to see if a new grieving families act gets traction in Albany.

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