LUBBOCK and ODESSA, Texas — After filing a lawsuit against Lubbock gun dealer Marcus Braziel and Anderson manufacturing Friday, the families of Joseph Griffith and Leilah Hernandez, who were murdered during the 2019 Odessa mass shooting, said they’re demanding justice from Braziel for giving the shooter the gun that killed their loved ones.
“Seth Ator killed seven people, including my little brother and this beautiful 15-year-old girl [Hernandez], and Marcus Braziel put the gun in his hand,” Carla Byrne, sister of Joseph Griffith, said.
On August 31, 2019, a gunman named Seth Ator killed seven people and wounded 22 on a shooting spree through Odessa, Texas. Two of those killed were Griffith and Hernandez, who was just 15 when she died. Both were shot in front of their families.
“Does it have to be one of your loved ones? Does it have to be? … This is wrong. We will not stop. We refuse to be silent until Marcus Braziel and people like him are held accountable for their actions,” Byrne said.
A year later, those families said they’re seeking justice in civil court. While Ator was killed by police during the shooting, now the families are asking for more than $1 million in damages from the man accused of illegally selling Ator a gun without so much as a background check.
“No question about it, [Braziel] should have asked questions before he took [Ator’s] money and sold him the gun,” John Sloan, attorney for the families, said.
According to the lawsuit, Ator had a history of mental illness and criminal behavior, including two misdemeanors and pleading guilty to evading arrest. He was prohibited from owning a firearm after a court found him “mentally unfit.” He tried to buy a gun legally in 2014 but was denied by a licensed dealer after failing a background check.
The lawsuit also stated that Braziel does not have a federal license to sell firearms, but he’d sold AR-type rifles and other firearms from his home and online in places like Craigslist for years.
“[The shooting victims] could have been any one of you,” Sloan said.
Days after the mass murder, Braziel’s home in Lubbock was raided by ATF and federal agents. They seized 29 firearms, and prosecutors are seeking to permanently keep those from Braziel.
The families are also pushing for a law that would require universal background checks on all gun sales, both public and private. They said they never want what happened to them to happen to other families.
“You have to have a background check when you want to work at Starbucks. Why don’t you have to have a background check when you want to buy an AR-15?” Marcy Askins, Griffith’s sister, said.
“People say a criminal is going to get a gun anyway. Yes, yes, he or she will. But then, we can prosecute the person that sold the gun to them without a background check. That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s all we’re fighting for,” Byrne said.
They added that they would rather see Braziel in jail, but he has not been charged with anything. Braziel is currently facing a criminal investigation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas, according to a news release.
While the families emphasized that their lawsuit will never bring their loved ones back, they hope their actions will set a new precedent for gun sales in the U.S. They left Braziel with a powerful message.
“You have messed with the wrong family, and we are not going to take this lying down,” Byrne said.