TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets is being sued over the deaths of a woman and her grandson who were shot and killed in a grocery store in Royal Palm Beach, Florida last year.
In June 2021, Litha Varone, 69, and Samuel Varone, 1, were gunned down at a Publix store in the Crossroads shopping plaza on Royal Palm Beach Boulevard, WPTV reported.
Authorities said Timothy Wall, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, walked into the store, and shot and killed Samuel as he sat in a shopping cart. The boy’s grandmother was killed when she tried to wrestle Wall’s gun away. Wall then turned the weapon on himself.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said the day before the shooting, Wall had posted a warning on his Facebook page about wanting to kill people, including children, but the sheriff’s office was not made aware about his post until after the killings, according to WPTV.
“You think a damn soul told us about that? No. And if it sounds like I’m angry, it’s because I am,” Bradshaw said at the time.
In the suit, lawyers for the grieving family place blame on Publix, saying there were no uniformed security guards or gun detectors at the store to prevent such a tragedy. The lawsuit claims there was no one monitoring the parking lot area, and the store had security cameras, but no one was checking them in real time.
“There was no security to respond to an emergency even if they were monitored,” the suit states. “If Publix had security in place to identify people who are potential threats, then it easily would have identified Wall as a potential threat earlier that same morning.”
The suit claims the grocery store giant put profits over the safety of its customers, noting it had revenues of $48 billion and net earnings of over $4.4 billion last year, but did not invest in the proper security to protect its customers from gun violence, at a time when mass shootings are on the rise across the country.
“Providing gun violence security at all of its stores still would have left the company with net earnings of over $4 billion,” the suit states. “The cost of uniformed security and other gun violence prevention measures was not an obstacle to Publix providing that protection for its customers and employees. However, Publix chose not to do so. Instead, chose to put all of its customers and employees at unnecessary risk.”
According to the lawsuit, between Jan. 1 and May 14, 2022, there were a total of 44 incidents involving guns at the nation’s 12 largest retailers, resulting in 137 deaths. At Publix stores nationwide, there were 16 incidents involving guns in that time period. Five people died.
“Publix is not immune to gun violence occurring at its stores,” the lawsuit adds.
The suit mentions other crimes that occurred near the Publix where the woman and toddler were killed, including an incident where a person threatened to shoot sheriff’s deputies in the parking lot, and another time when a person brandished a firearm in the parking lot. Detectives later learned they were trying to sell it.
“There is no path that will ever take away the crushing grief that has engulfed our family. Our son was days away from his second birthday. Our mother was the center of our world and was instrumental in the lives of her children and grandchildren. Nothing can ever take away the profound sense of emptiness in our hearts but there is a path that may prevent another family from experiencing this type of anguish. Publix ignored every red flag that placed the safety of their customers in jeopardy. They ignored the need to invest in security and that choice cost us everything,” the family said in a statement through the law firm.
The suit seeks damages in excess of $30,000 and a trial by jury.