Sandy Hook mom testifies that Alex Jones followers told her: ‘Watch your back, we are watching you.’
HARTFORD — The mother of one of the murdered Sandy Hook children described Wednesday how her life and her husband’s changed a decade ago when deniers of the school shooting twisted and abused her husband’s attempt to record what was intended to be a tender remembrance of their murdered daughter.
“It has stolen so much of him,” Allisa Parker said of her husband Robbie. “He is very withdrawn, doesn’t talk to people. In the 10 years since this has happened, outside the Newtown families that have lost loved ones, I don’t think he has made a friend. He doesn’t talk to anyone. He doesn’t trust people. He is worried about people encountering us.”
The Parkers’ daughter Emilie was among the 20 first graders and six educators murdered in the 2012 Newtown school shootings. And they are among families of nine victim families suing conspiracy theorist and broadcaster Alex Jones in Connecticut, claiming that they have been threatened, stalked and harassed for years by people persuaded by his claims that the murders were stage by actors in a conspiracy to outlaw gun ownership.
The recorded video tribute to his daughter made Robbie Parker a central figure in what has emerged as a legal fight to force Jones and others to tell the truth about the school shooting. Still in shock just days after his daughter’s murder, Robbie Parker jotted his thoughts on a piece of paper and, in response to encouragement from his father, smiled weakly as he approached what he thought was a single television camera.
Within hours, Jones twisted and edited the video into what he claimed was proof of a hoax. He said Parker was an actor, reading from a script with a smile that did not suggest bereavement. Jones has played deceptively edited versions of the video dozens of times on his broadcast and internet platforms, while mocking Parker as a second rate actor with a make-believe daughter.
A decade later, Allisa Parker testified Tuesday, the threats and harassment generated by the misuse of the recording continue — following her family as they fled across the country to the Pacific northwest. She said she believes her family is being watched and that lies about the murders being a hoax have even “infected” their new West Coast church.
“This weekend I had three people at church come to me and say that,” she testified, “People within your own group are turning against you and they don’t believe. Three people said they have a relative or a friend who didn’t believe in Sandy Hook and they had gone to bat for us.”
Both Parkers testified Wednesday that the idea for the video remembrance that changed their lives came within hours of the shootings. Friends and family from their hometown in Utah were flying to Newtown to offer support. One of the friends created a social media page to honor Emilie.
Allisa Parker testified that the page was quickly flooded with comments from people, many of whom knew nothing of Emilie. Friends of the Parkers, who did know their daughter, were being pressed by reporters in Utah and elsewhere for statements about the murdered first grader.
“People were just saying the craziest things about our daughter and we didn’t want it to be that way,” Allisa Parker testified Wednesday. ”If anyone was going to say anything about our daughter, Robbie wanted it to come from us. And he wanted us to honor her in the way that we knew her and he wanted it to specifically come from him.”
The Parkers had lived in Sandy Hook less than a year. They spent most of that time remodeling their house and had not made new friends. Their support network was in Utah, where they grew up and went to school. The were being deluged with calls from Utah
They decided to give a single interview to a Utah television station to reach friends back home. It was to be recorded in their church in Connecticut. Robbie Parker jotted down some notes on a piece of paper and headed to the church.
“He had written it out,” Allisa Parker said, fighting back emotion. “He just loved that little girl and he wanted to honor her. I was super proud of him. I could never have done that. The words that he used to describe our daughter were just beautiful and I am proud of him.”
Robbie Parker testified, “I felt this strong urge to protect her in some way and that’s when I made the call and set the whole thing up. I didn’t want anything about my family to be taken the wrong way. I wrote an outline. I was just doing my best to try to honor her.”
It was dark when Robbie Parker walked outside of the church for the interview. He expected one camera and planned to discuss ground rules with his interviewer. Instead he was confronted by a battery of cameras and blinded lights.
“So I come out and it was already dark,” he testified. “And I just remember bright lights and I couldn’t see anything behind the bright lights and it was very confusing to me.”
He was waiting for someone to come up and give him advice and how to conduct an interview. When no one arrived, he just started.
He said his father whispered a family joke as encouragement and he walked to the lights with his notes. He identified himself, said that his was one of the families that had lost a child. He said his “heart and prayers” went out to all the victims, including the family of the gunman, Adam Lanza.
“My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing here and giving her love and support to these victims …” he said on the recording.
“It was supposed to be one camera,” Allisa Parker said. “It ran away from us.”
Hours later, at about 2 a.m., Parker was unable to sleep. He switched on his computer and discovered what his wife described as “horrible things” that were being written about Emilie. Allisa Parker said it was the beginning of what has become the endless assault by Sandy Hook deniers.
“An assault, a full on assault,” Allisa Parker testified, fighting back tears. “It was so intense. And the words that people were using were so scary and horrific, what they were saying about my sweet daughter. Things like, ‘Watch you back, we are watching you.’ and ‘We are coming after you.’ They called Emilie a whore. Calling Robbie a liar. And that we were going to burn in hell for what he had done. It was just a constant onslaught coming after us and coming after our friends.”
The Parkers and the other Connecticut families are suing Jones for millions of dollars. In his opening statement to the jury, one of their lawyers, Christopher Mattei, asked for a verdict big enough to “stop” Jones. In August, a Texas jury awarded the parents of one of the murdered children nearly $50 million in compensatory and punitive damages in a related suit. Still earlier this year, the victim families settled a suit against Remington Arms, which made the rifle Lanza used, for $73 million.
The trial in Waterbury before Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis is solely for the jury to determine what compensation Jones owes. In an extraordinary default ruling last year, Bellis settled the question of Jones’ liability in favor of the families, finding that his broadcasts were false and were responsible for the harassment experienced by the families.
The families accuse Jones of defamation, responsibility for emotional suffering and, significantly, violation of the state unfair trade practices law. If the families can persuade the jury that Jones spread lies and fears for profit, it could find him liable under the trade practices law, which puts no ceiling on damages.