Sandy Hook families spent weeks testifying about all the ways Alex Jones' hoax lies caused them to be harassed on the street, online, and in their own homes
- For the past three weeks, Sandy Hook families have been testifying in the second Alex Jones trial.
- Jones is facing three similar defamation damages trials over his false claims that the shooting was a hoax.
About three years after her son Ben died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Francine Wheeler said she attended a conference for mothers who had lost their children due to gun violence.
In the elevator at the conference, she came across another woman sobbing and tried to comfort her. She learned that the woman's 19-year-old son had died in a shooting three weeks earlier.
When Wheeler told the woman how her own child died, she said the stranger's demeanor suddenly changed.
"She said 'You're lying, that didn't happen,' " Wheeler recalled.
For the last nearly four weeks, the parents of Sandy Hook victims have described in court testimony how their personal tragedy was turned into even more of a nightmare when conspiracy theorist Alex Jones started claiming the shooting was a hoax.
Closing arguments in the case are set to take place on Thursday after Jones decided against testifying in his own defense. The jury will then start deliberating on how much to award the plaintiffs since Jones has already lost the defamation case by default.
Within hours of the shooting, Jones went on his show Infowars to suggest that the massacre was actually staged by the government as a pretext to restrict gun ownership.
Those statements had a devastating effect on the families of the victims, according to their testimony. The families said they were soon hunted and harassed by Sandy Hook hoax believers.
Strangers at the door
Francine Wheeler's husband, David, said strangers have shown up at their home, demanding to see Ben because they were convinced he was still alive. Eventually, David was forced to install a security camera system on the house.
David said people have also harassed him on Facebook, calling him a "fake" and a "liar." Clips from his unsuccessful acting career were used as evidence that he was hired to play a part in the shooting.
FBI agent Bill Aldenberg, who was one of the law enforcement agents to respond to the shooting, is among the plaintiffs in the Connecticut trial.
During his time on the stand, Aldenberg explained how Sandy Hook questioners began to claim that he and David Wheeler were the same person and were playing different parts in the "staged" shooting. Aldenberg said he found video after video online of people comparing a photo of him responding to the shooting with pictures of Wheeler.
Aldenberg said that while he feels he can take the online harassment and questions over whether he was a real FBI agent, he hurts for the pain it's caused Wheeler.
"He's suffered enough," Aldenberg said.
How a smile led to harassment
Robbie Parker, who lost his daughter Emilie in the shooting, arguably bore the brunt of Jones' skepticism.
Jones targeted Parker, saying he looked like an actor because he smiled just before giving a press conference the night after his daughter died.
Parker said on the stand that he had quickly laughed at the time because his dad called him by a childhood nickname right before he started speaking.
Parker said he's had to deal for years with the burden of feeling like he aided the skepticism with that split second of laughter, and eventually, he and his family moved across the country to get away from Newtown.
"We had this family here of people who knew exactly what we were experiencing ... and I didn't know if I could move anywhere in the country and find that kind of support system. But I was so shamed in my belief that I had brought this on everybody because I was the first person who said something, I was the first person who laughed, I was the person who was being targeted," Parker said.
Parker also described being confronted by an angry man on the street in Seattle who accused him of lying about the shooting.
Parker said the man initially came up to him and asked if he had a daughter who was killed. Parker thought the man was going to try to comfort him. The man swore at him and asked him how he slept at night.
"He had so much venom toward me, for who he thought I was," Parker said.
Impossible to mourn
Carlee Soto-Parisi, who lost her sister Victoria in the shooting, said the Sandy Hook doubters made it difficult to mourn her sister. Victoria was the teacher in the first-grade classroom in which most of the victims were students.
"It's hurtful, it's devastating, it's crippling," Soto-Parisi said. "You can't grieve properly because you're constantly defending yourself, defending your family, your loved ones."
Soto-Parisi is pictured in one of the most famous images to come out of the tragedy, crying on the phone after rushing to the scene.
She said that people who shared Jones' belief that the shooting was staged over-analyzed the photo online, comparing her to women photographed at other tragic events like the Boston Bombing, claiming they were the same person and that it was evidence she was the same "crisis actor" hired time and time again.
Prowling the cemetery
Jennifer Hensel lost her daughter Avielle in the shooting. Years later, her husband, Avielle's father, Jeremy Richman, died by suicide.
Hensel said that when her husband died, she didn't immediately get him a burial plot in the town cemetery where Avielle was buried, because she was deciding how best to honor him.
Later, she heard from locals who said they saw people entering the cemetery looking for her husband's tombstone. When they didn't find it, Hensel said that information was used as evidence by the hoaxers that her husband never died.
Hensel is now parenting her two other children as a single mom, and she says she's tried to shield them from what happened at Sandy Hook and all the people who believe it was staged.
"There are a horde of people out there who could hurt them and shouldn't hurt them, shouldn't talk about them, shouldn't even know about them. And because of what has happened after 12/14 and this hoax, they will know about that at some point, but I want to keep them as innocent as I can for now," Hensel said.
"When they're old enough to find out, I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do, and that's going to be really, really hard," Hensel added.
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