PITTSBURGH — It’s been more than a year since 17-year-old Matthew Steffy-Ross and another teenager were shot and killed while attending a party at an Airbnb on the North Side Easter morning.
11 others were wounded when gunfire erupted. More than 200 rounds were fired and people were running for their lives during the chaos.
Rick Earle spoke with Steffy-Ross’ great aunt, who has now filed a lawsuit against Airbnb and several others involved in the renting or leasing of the property where the shooting occurred
“I do believe that Matthew’s light, somehow it’s going to shine on Airbnb and bring some type of justice. He shone such a light and he was so kind,” said his great aunt, Bonne McLain.
Matthew was about to graduate high school.
He worked part-time at a fast food restaurant and was launching his own clothing line.
He also served as a youth mentor, and he often spoke out about youth violence.
“The kids would listen to him, and things like that and that’s how he ended up being a mentor for them,” said McLain.
McLain said Matthew really didn’t want to go to the party, but friends convinced him to go.
“They kept pushing him so he went, but when that bullet hit him, everybody that was supposed to be his friend, they all left him. They left him,” said McLain.
“Airbnb cannot hide their head in the sand and someone needs to hold them accountable,” said one of McLain’s attorneys, Ismail Yousef.
The lawsuit filed in Allegheny County claims Airbnb and the others failed to ensure the property would be safe, rented only by responsible adults, and would not be used for house parties attended by minors.
“Really, we have a choice here as a community. Do we want to have these unregulated nightclubs that don’t have any permits pulled, that have unlimited capacities theoretically, that have no security systems in place? Do we think that poses a danger to the community? I think the clear answer to that is it does,” said David Romanow, McLain’s attorney.
“In my opinion not having any safeguards, anybody being able to go on, rent a room, throw a party, nothing. In my opinion, they are most definitely responsible,” said McLain.
Airbnb would not comment specifically on the pending lawsuit. Instead, a spokesperson referred Earle to the statement released after the shooting. That statement said they removed the guest who reserved the Airbnb and suspended the listing.
It also said they conduct criminal background checks of all hosts.
McLain is also calling on the city of Pittsburgh to take action.
After the shooting, Pittsburgh City Councilman Bobby Wilson, who represents the neighborhood where the shooting happened, introduced legislation that would create a registry of short-term rentals and require annual licenses and inspections, but that was put on hold after the courts struck down a similar proposal related to rental properties.
Council is now considering options.
“That legislation in city council should have never stalled. Kids die, and kids are traumatized and Airbnb is still profiting on the trauma and deaths of the lives of children,” said McLain.
And while McLain said she understands it’s a difficult case to solve with multiple shooters and more than 200 rounds fired, she’s growing increasingly concerned that it’s been more than a year and no arrests and no charges.
“A year later it’s time to refocus. I don’t want to let this turn into a cold case,” said McLain.
Earle reached out to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police for an update on the investigation.
“This is an active investigation. The PBP and the DA’s Office are utilizing other investigative tools with respect to this. There is no further information to share,” said Pittsburgh Public Safety Spokesperson, Cara Cruz.
“His smile lit up the darkest night,” said McLain.
To help cope with the grief and tremendous loss, McLain wrote a poem about her nephew, called God’s Very Own Sunbeam.
“God reached out and took Matt by the hand the hand and said welcome my child, you’ve earned a place in this land,” said McLain.
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