SUNNYVALE -- Ahead of the Fourth of July holiday weekend and early into the summer vacation season, a family who lost their son in a shooting at an Airbnb party two years ago hopes more can be done to prevent another tragedy, and are filing a lawsuit against the company and the property owner.
"His future just cut short, he's a bright future, he's a bright kid," said Abdallah Elhania, the father of Elias Elhania, who was killed in August 2021. "I used to come every single day and sit there and I can see him next to me."
Elhania loved books and spent hours at the Northside Branch Library in Santa Clara when he was alive. So his parents chose to meet this reporter at that location when remembering their son. His father returned to the library many times immediately after his death.
His son was 18 years old when he was shot and later died from his injuries on the night of August 7, 2021. It is illegal to host an event at a short-term rental in Sunnyvale but someone booked the home where up to 200 people showed up, mostly minors drinking alcohol.
"It brings all the memories again, it's not easy it's painful. It's really painful," Elhania's father said.
Airbnb announced in June it was launching a summer safety campaign. The company also said it was trying to crack down on shorter reservations around holiday weekends across the country a couple of weeks earlier. But Airbnb did not want to comment about the lawsuit when asked multiple times by KPIX. The company instead referred back to a statement it issued right after the shooting in 2021.
"Airbnb bans parties, and we condemn the senseless gun violence that took place in Sunnyvale," the statement said two days after the shooting. "Our dedicated Safety team is urgently working to support those impacted by this tragedy."
The statement went on to say it was working with the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety and aiding them with their investigation. City leaders confirmed that a couple of months after the shooting, a suspect was arrested.
"I saw all of the aftermath with my own eyes," said Sunnyvale District 4 Council Member Russ Melton, who lived just two blocks away from the shooting. "This was a traumatic event, and we heard a lot from the community, not only about what happened on the night but sort of what's the deal with short-term rentals in Sunnyvale so that was a topic that city council took very, very seriously."
Melton says he believes Airbnb and other platforms have improved the process for booking short-term rentals since the shooting and the city properly handles the business. He pointed to a recent vote by the city council not to spend any additional money on enforcement because they believed the system is working. The City of Sunnyvale is also suing the property owner, like the family, but its lawsuit does not name Airbnb.
"We've taken action, we take this seriously, and I think we have a solid grip on the situation," Melton told KPIX regarding short-term rentals in Sunnyvale.
An attorney for the property owner told KPIX this week they did not have any comment on the case.
"It's mixed feelings but it's really painful, actually we see him," Elhania said. "His smile is always with him since he was a baby until his last days, he's always smiling no matter what."
Another location his parents chose to visit was a nearby park and basketball court. Their son could walk here from the library and the family's home was nearby at the time. They often feel his presence when they visit the park.
"I can see him everywhere, I can hear him talking to me. I talk to him just like I used to," said Zahra Elmenjaoui, Elhania's mother. "It's really hard to bury your own son, at this age."
The family's attorney, Teresa Li, was able to switch the case to state court earlier this month, they believe that change-of-venue will play in their favor. They await a response from Airbnb's legal team, which they anticipate will happen next month as the case moves forward.
Li also shared that they have tried to identify the renter who organized the party and booked the property on Airbnb. They have yet to find that person's identity.
"The circumstances show it could be avoided, it could be prevented, and I don't want no other family to go through what we're going through now," his mother added.
The emptiness his parents convey is also felt by Elhania's two younger sisters who miss their brother, and his grandmother, who still is in denial that he is gone.
"We don't want anybody, anybody on this earth to suffer the loss of their kids," his father said.
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