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Highland Park Survivors sue gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, online distributor Bud's Gun Shop, retailer Red Dot Arms, Shooter, and Shooter's Father for role in City of Highland Park fourth of July parade mass shooting

September 28, 2022

Click here to download the Complaint: "The Mass Shooting at Highland Park’s Fourth of July Parade was the Foreseeable and Entirely Preventable Result of a Chain of Events Initiated by Smith & Wesson”

Today, survivors of the mass shooting at the City of Highland Park’s Fourth of July Parade filed a set of lawsuits against the individuals and entities responsible for the shooting — Smith & Wesson, online gun distributor Bud’s Gun Shop, Illinois gun retailer Red Dot Arms, the shooter, and the shooter’s father — for their respective roles in making it possible for the shooter to carry out the massacre. The survivors are represented by Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, Everytown Law, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. The lawsuits allege that Smith & Wesson’s marketing of the murder weapon was unfair and deceptive, including because it misleadingly implies a non-existent association between its “M&P” (Military and Police) line of assault rifles and the U.S. military and because it knew that its marketing and sales practices promote and sell an image that caters to and attracts individuals like the shooter. The lawsuits further allege that two gun stores – online distributor Bud’s Gun Shop and retailer Red Dot Arms — negligently and illegally sold the murder weapon – a Smith & Wesson  M&P assault rifle — to the shooter in violation of the assault weapons bans in Highwood and Highland Park, Illinois. The shooter used the assault rifle to murder seven people, wound more than 4 dozen more, and traumatize others gathered for the annual parade.

“The community in and around Highland Park has been devastated by this tragic shooting and too many lives have been lost or forever changed. Parents and grandparents lost their lives while simply trying to spend time with their families, others were shot and seriously wounded, including one young boy who has paid the highest price and will never ride his bike or run again. The use of a Smith & Wesson M&P15 for this nefarious purpose was predictable and preventable and there must be accountability for the corporate decisions that incubated this tragedy, clearly dismissing public safety while bringing in record earnings. With this litigation we intend to end the Smith & Wesson manipulation of consumers,” said Antonio M. Romanucci, founding partner at Romanucci & Blandin, LLC.

The July 4th mass shooting in Highland Park wasn’t just an act of one troubled young man,” said Alla Lefkowitz, senior director of affirmative litigation at Everytown Law. As our complaints allege, he used a gun that was deceptively and unfairly marketed to him by Smith & Wesson, illegally sold to him by Bud’s Gun Shop and Red Dot Arms, and negligently put in his hands by his father. Each and every one of those entities and individuals bears responsibility for the devastation at the parade, and our lawsuit seeks to hold them accountable for the damage their actions led to.”

“The gun industry targets its advertising to a subset of consumers — like the shooter here — that it knows are impulsive and prone to violence.  Time and again, they have seen their products used in mass shootings.  Yet manufacturers like Smith & Wesson refuse to take even the most basic steps to address their dangerous sales and marketing practices.  That’s because those practices sell more weapons and, indeed, the outcry that follows every mass shooting only improves their bottom line.  Smith & Wesson, Bud’s Gun Shop, Red Dot Arms, and the rest of the gun industry cannot avoid the consequences of the death and destruction caused by the very consumers into whose hands they actively try to put their weapons.  Actions like the ones filed today are critical to exposing the gun industry’s deadly narrative,” said H. Christopher Boehning, litigation partner with Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

The plaintiffs in these cases include the families of individuals killed in the shooting, parade-goers who were shot and wounded, and people who were at the parade and traumatized by the shooting, including:

  • The Roberts family, whose eight-year-old boy was shot and paralyzed, with his twin brother suffering shrapnel wounds and his mother suffering a severe gunshot wound;
  • The estate of Nicholas Toledo, who was in town from Mexico with his wife, visiting their grandchildren;
  • The estate of Steven Strauss, who at 88 still worked five days a week as a stockbroker and leaves behind a wife and two adult sons;
  • The estate of Jacki Sundheim, who worked for decades at the North Shore Congregation Israel and leaves behind a husband and daughter;
  • Lauren Bennett, who was shot twice in her back, as well as her mother-in-law, Terrie Bennett, who was shot in the arm, and mother Debbie Samuels who was grazed by a bullet;
  • Lorena Rebollar Sedano, who was shot in the foot;
  • Mirna Rodriguez, who was shot in the backside;
  • Michael Zeifert, who was shot in his chest, and his wife, Dr. Christine Zeifert, who was with him at the parade;
  • Amelia Tenorio and her young son, who were both shot and wounded;
  • Silvia Vergara who was shot in the leg;
  • Over 30 other people who saw their family members shot and themselves suffered emotional trauma at the parade.

Plaintiffs are represented by founding partner Antonio M. Romanucci, managing and senior partner Gina A. DeBoni, partner David Neiman and partner Michael E. Holden from Romanucci & Blandin, LLC; Alla Lefkowitz, senior director of affirmative litigation, Krystan Hitchcock, counsel, and Lauren Keeley, litigation fellow from Everytown Law; and H. Christopher Boehning, partner, Jeffrey Recher, partner, and Carly Lagrotteria, associate from Paul, Weiss Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

  • Romanucci & Blandin is proud to have represented victims of the Las Vegas Route 91 concert mass shooting and the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting in Orlando. The firm also has experience representing clients harmed by the deceptive marketing of JUUL e-cigarette manufacturer, victims of mass tragedies including the Ethiopian Air flight 302 disaster involving a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, toxic pollution cases, and a class action on behalf of more than two million people who wrongfully endured “stop and frisk” violations by Chicago Police.
  • Everytown Law is the largest team of litigators in the U.S. working full-time on advancing gun violence prevention in the courts. Current cases include litigation on behalf of the City of Chicago against the largest out-of-state supplier of crime guns into the city; on behalf of school shooting victims in Texas and California; against online ghost gun and ammunition retailers; and on behalf of the Ohio NAACP and elected state officials challenging Ohio’s Stand Your Ground law.
  • Paul, Weiss has led high-impact pro bono cases for decades and is deeply committed to combatting the gun violence epidemic.  Chris Boehning, along with Paul, Weiss chairman Brad Karp, led the formation of the Firearms Accountability Task Force (FACT), an unprecedented effort by a coalition of law firms to use affirmative litigation to confront the ongoing epidemic of gun violence. Paul, Weiss lawyers, including Mr. Boehning, were part of the legal team that secured an historic settlement earlier this year against gun maker Remington on behalf of survivors of the 2012 shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School; the $73 million payment was the largest by a gun maker in a mass shooting.

The complaints allege that:

Smith & Wesson:

  • Smith & Wesson deceptively and unfairly markets its M&P line of assault rifles by implying a non-existent association with the U.S. military, a strategy referred to as the halo” effect by its former CEO, and one that is particularly effective with young men fascinated with militaristic combat missions.
  • The intent of this branding and marketing campaign is to increase civilian sales by conveying the message that M&P rifles are approved and/or used by the U.S. military.
  • The company intentionally and unfairly appeals to the propensity of young men for risk-taking, impulsive behavior by promising more adrenaline” and encouraging them to "Kick Brass.
  • When Smith & Wesson engaged in all these marketing practices after over a decade of mass shootings, it knew or should have known of the existence of a category of consumers, including individuals like the shooter, who would be attracted to such a weapon and could post a threat and risk to the safety of others - specifically impulsive young men with militaristic delusions attracted to using assault rifles like the M&P15 to effectively execute their violent fantasies.
  • Consistent with Smith & Wesson’s marketing strategy, the shooter chose his M&P15 in order to inflict the most damage possible on the maximum number of people. He owned numerous other firearms, but the M&P15 was his weapon of choice.

Buds Gun Shop and Red Dot Arms:

  • Bud’s Gun Shop sold the M&P assault rifle to the shooter despite the fact that it is illegal for residents of Highwood and Highland Park to acquire and possess assault weapons.
  • The store then shipped the gun to Red Dot Arms, a gun dealer located in Illinois, which illegally and negligently transferred the assault rifle to the shooter.
  • Both stores knew the shooter’s address, and thereby knew that they were selling an assault rifle to a resident of a municipality that prohibited the possession of such weapons. Nevertheless, they proceeded with the sale and transfer, enabling the shooter to carry out his deadly mission.

The Shooter:

  • The shooter was an avid user of the social media platforms that Smith & Wesson utilized to promote its assault rifles and he displayed his hardcore violent fantasies online. He styled himself on one platform as a “Master Gunnery Sergeant,” and on others as a video game assassin. He spewed hatred online and often posted videos of himself playing first person shooter games.
  • An aspiring rapper, his music videos featured lyrics like “when I die…I want to go to hell,” and “I need to just do it. It is my destiny . . . Nothing can stop me, not even myself.” The imagery of his music videos was similarly violent. In one animated video, he drew a young man in tactical gear, holding an assault rifle and shooting people before police appear and kill the shooter. In another video, he appears in a classroom in a helmet and tactical vest.
  • At the age of 18 in 2019, the shooter attempted suicide. The following year, in 2020, shortly after creating his “Master Gunnery Sergeant” profile, he went online to buy a Smith & Wesson assault rifle. On July 4, 2022, armed with his Smith & Wesson rifle, he was able to act out his violent fantasy – like so many disturbed and hate-filled young men before him. The shooting played out in an entirely foreseeable way – with extreme and limitless power – just as Smith &Wesson advertised about its M&P assault rifles.

The Shooters Father:

  • The shooter was able to complete the purchase of the assault weapon because his father recklessly, and with a callous disregard for public safety, sponsored his son’s Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card application at the age of 19, shortly after he attempted suicide with a machete and threatened to kill everyone in his house.

Plaintiffs’ statements on the shooting and the filing of litigation:

How do you begin to weave thousands of moments, the tiniest of details into a larger image. How do you properly share the feeling of being rocked to sleep, the joy of dancing around the living room, and the years of conversations. For twenty-eight years I lived in a world, certain that no matter what happens, my mom is just a phone call away. After the phone rang on July 4th and my dad had to tell me that my mom went to the parade, that she was shot, that she was dead. My life is now broken into a before and an after. Before when my family was whole, when my childhood home was filled with yarn and laughter. After July 4th there is silence, there is grief, and there is the weight of her loss filling up every corner of my life,” said Leah Sundheim, daughter of Jacki Sundheim, who was shot and killed.

“There needs to be a check on corporations that market these weapons to the public knowing a portion of the public is capable of this type of horror. There must be accountability from all of us to see that the sanctity of life is protected and celebrated,” said Bruce Sundheim, whose wife Jacki Sundheim was shot and killed.

“There are no words that can truly convey the trauma of having a loved one stolen from you; violently snatched away, with no rhyme or reason, never to return. There would never be a goodbye hug or kiss. There would be no opportunity to thank him for all the love and support he showered on us over the years. There would be no more jokes, laughs, or conversations. Our dad had been stolen from us and we would never get him back. The bullets that ended our father’s long life also forever altered the path of our family. Now, we would share the unwelcome distinction of being yet another American family shattered by random gun violence,” said Jon Strauss, whose father Steven Strauss was shot and killed.

 “My boys dodged bullets, jumped over fallen bodies, while running behind me, looking at my blood-soaked body, and they assumed their mother was probably bleeding to death. We survived in a battle zone that day, and will carry the most horrendous images with us for the rest of our lives.  As we’ve been healing in these following weeks, we have to come to terms with the reality that perpetual safety in the most shielded of places is nonexistent.  Our experience will forever be with us, some of us physically, many of us mentally, and who knows how these injuries will manifest in days or years to come. One thing is for certain, moving forward my family and I learned on that violent and traumatic day– that we are ALL constantly in the line of fire, and until we realize this so shall we all remain,” said Lauren Bennett, who was shot twice in her back.

“Personally, as one of the victims, it was a terrifying day, the most frightening day of life. It will remain forever in our memories, where our lives changed completely, especially those who lost their loved ones. After that day, my life is not the same. I am afraid to go out to places where there are crowds of people and I think that is not fair. Because of the marketing and advertising of these kinds weapons our lives will not be the same. That is why we demand justice so that this person pays and all those responsible pay for what they did,” said Lorena Rebollar Sedano, who was shot in the foot.

“Now we have to go through life with trauma and fear. The thought of going out in public is a big challenge for us due to the fear that it could happen again. The sound of fireworks, screams or big bangs put us into a state of panic and fear. Those occurrences bring back memories of that day. Not only do we have to face that challenge but I also have to ensure that my daughters and grandkids understand that everything is going to be okay, we will get through this together. God has given us a second chance and we are here to make sure that justice is served,” said Silvia Vergara, who was shot in the leg.

“My family’s sense of safety has been forever comprised. As a parent, what I once thought to be impossible fears of my children are now our reality.  My children’s fears need to be addressed and acknowledged on a daily basis.  They ask questions I cannot answer.  My children want to know why someone would shoot people watching a parade.  As I put my children to bed, I receive questions on if they could be shot while they sleep? Or whether that loud noise is another gunman? These types of questions are now the norms in our lives. As part of our recovery, we feel it is appropriate to hold accountable the actions of others that enabled the gunman to carry out this senseless act. More importantly, we are advocating that we as a society need to take additional steps to prevent and limit the amount of destruction a gunman can cause at any one time,” said Michael Zeifert, who was shot in the chest.

It was very terrifying for me to see my 11-year-old son, injured in his leg, crying. He asked me what I had done to him, what had happened to him. At that time I was just hugging him to keep him calm. Before the tragedy our life was calm. We went for a walk in the afternoons, we went out to the park without fear that something bad would happen to us after that day nothing is the same. Now we live with fear and with the trauma that we have left. That is why we demand that justice be done and that they stop marketing and advertising these kinds of weapons to people who harm innocent people,” said Amelia Tenorio, who was shot in the back of her thigh and her son was shot in the leg.

"My 5-year-old son was super excited when I told him that we were going to the parade he asked me “what’s a parade?” I explained to him what we celebrate and that there was going to be candy and lots of fun stuff to see and he was super excited. But I did not tell him he would need to terrified. We never expected the fear of losing one of our children or my husband’s life or maybe my own life. I don’t know for how long the nightmares will live in our lives. That’s why we demand justice,” said Mirna Rodriguez, who was shot in her backside.

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Romanucci & Blandin is a Chicago-based national trial practice committed to fighting for victims of negligence, abuse and wrongful death. Founded in 1998, we have decades of history securing verdicts and settlements for our clients - many for millions of dollars and others record-setting awards.  Our experience ranges from mass shooting cases, including the Las Vegas Route 91 and Pulse Nightclub in Orlando tragedies, to medical malpractice and sexual abuse cases involving individual or institutional negligence and civil rights, police misconduct and workers compensation, making Romanucci & Blandin a valuable legal resource to individuals and groups of people who have been injured by others’ wrongdoing. Referring attorneys and clients say several factors differentiate our firm: Our record of success, depth of experience, talented and dedicated legal team, tireless preparation and strategic use of communications to fight for the rights of those whose lives have been changed forever. We are different from other personal injury firms in that our work does not stop when a verdict or settlement is secured. We are often inspired by our clients’ experiences and commit resources to create change in our communities. For more information about Romanucci & Blandin, please visit www.rblaw.net or call (312) 458-1000.

Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, is the largest team of litigators in the U.S. working full-time on advancing gun violence prevention in the courts. Everytown Law fights for the right of every individual to live free from gun violence, including representing survivors of gun violence seeking accountability and reform from the gun industry, challenging dangerous gun laws, and defending gun safety laws against Second Amendment and preemption challenges. Learn more about Everytown Law’s work at www.everytownlaw.org.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP is a firm of about 1,000 lawyers with diverse backgrounds, personalities, ideas and interests who provide innovative and effective solutions to our clients’ most complex legal and business challenges. The firm represents many of the world’s largest and most important public and private corporations, asset managers and financial institutions, and clients in need of pro bono assistance.

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