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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    Sandy Hook dad testifies he can’t escape the hoaxers

    Robbie Parker, father of deceased Sandy Hook Elementary School student Emilie Parker, describes being confronted on the street by a follower of Infowars conspiracy theories during his testimony in Alex Jones' defamation trial at Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn., on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. (Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool)
    Donna Soto, of Stratford, mother of deceased Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Victoria Soto, wipes a tear during her testimony in Alex Jones' defamation trial at Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn., on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. (Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool)
    A video of Alex Jones responding to questions about Infowars segments covering the Sandy Hook massacre is presented to the jury panel during Jones' defamation trial at Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn., on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. (Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool)
    An online post targeting Ian Hockley, father of deceased Sandy Hook student Dylan Hockley, is displayed to the jury panel during the Alex Jones defamation trial at Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn. on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP)

    Four years after his daughter was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and 3,000 miles away in a new home, Robbie Parker testified Thursday that the legion of deniers inspired by broadcaster Alex Jones continued to find him.

    Jones had long before seized on a video clip of Parker mourning the murder of his daughter Emilie, making it a regular prop in his conspiratorial broadcasts asserting that the school shootings were a hoax. Jones claimed Parker had to have been acting the part of bereaved parent, because he smiled briefly and consulted notes as he approached the television cameras.

    Less than a year after the Dec. 14, 2012, school shootings, Parker told the jury hearing the Connecticut defamation case against Jones, that the harassment he attributes to Jones’ broadcast and internet programs had become so abusive he came to believe he could better protect his family if they moved away from Newtown.

    He left his job as a physician assistant in neonatal intensive care at Danbury Hospital and moved to the state of Washington, but soon learned he might never get far enough away.

    His family was attending a charity event and he dropped them at a Seattle hotel. He was walking a block or so back from a parking garage when a stranger confronted him.

    “I am walking down this random street in Seattle and this guy is walking in the other direction and he gives me one of those looks like, ’You look familiar.’

    “This hadn’t happened to me in a long time, as far as somebody recognizing me in person. So I pause and I look at him and he asks me, ‘Didn’t you have a daughter that was killed?’ and I said, ‘Yeah my daughter Emilie. She was a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School.’

    “And generally in these encounters, as awkward as they are, the person usually wants to give you a hug and express their condolences and all of that. And I reached my hand out to shake his hand. And he looked down at my hand and he just stared at me and he said, ‘How do you (expletive) sleep at night you (expletive) piece of (expletive).’

    “I was really taken back by that. And I stared at him. And he had so much venom and so much hatred for who he thought that I was. He said, ‘How much money did you get from the (expletive) government you (expletive)?’ ”

    Parker, overcome by emotion, told the jury that he changed direction to lead the stranger away from his family.

    “The guy just kept following me and he was just in my ear the whole time: ‘Emilie’s alive, isn’t she? She’s alive, huh? Son of a bitch, she’s alive.’ And I just kept walking and walking. People are staring at us and he just won’t shut up,” he said.

    “I’m just trying to hold it in. For years, I’ve been dealing with this. And I never had the chance to tell anybody how I felt or what I thought,” Parker testified. “I retreated every single time something happened to us. I put another layer of camouflage on us. Nobody can know where we are. And I retreated and I retreated.”

    “And now this guy was in my face and he wouldn’t leave me alone. And he said Emilie’s name one more time. I turned around and I looked at him and, I’m paraphrasing at this point, and I said, ‘How dare you. You’re talking about my daughter. She was killed. Who do you think you are? How do you sleep at night?’

    The stranger gave up, perhaps because a crowd had gathered. Parker said he walked for another 20 minutes to collect his wits.

    Parker testified that he thought he had regained his composure by the time he reached his hotel room. But his wife, Allisa, knew something had happened.

    “She opened the door and she took one look at me and her face went white. She could see it on me. The girls were on the bed watching a show and I darted into the bathroom and she followed me in and put her hands on my face and asked, ‘What happened, what happened?’ ”

    Allisa testified a day earlier and described for the jury her experience with what she described as a relentless, vile assault on social media that began within hours of her husband’s statement to the news media. She said Emilie, a first grader, was called a “whore” and she was told “that we were going to burn in hell for what he had done.”

    Robbie Parker described how, only a week after the murder, his wife collapsed under the combined weight of her daughter’s murder and a flood of social media messaging parroting Jones’ theory that the murder never happened, but was a hoax contrived to win support for gun control.

    Parker said they had flown to their hometown in Utah to bury Emilie with family. He said he found his wife sobbing in a coat closet as the service was about to begin and the church, fearing a disruption, had hired security guards.

    The Parkers are among the 14 relatives of Sandy Hook school shooting victims and a first responder suing Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, in Superior Court in Waterbury. Their daughter Emilie was among the 20 first graders and six educators killed when a mentally unstable 20-year-old shot his way into the school with an assault rifle.

    The families are suing Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, to collect millions for defamation and the emotional distress they say they have suffered over years of threats and abuse from people persuaded by Jones’ claims that the murders never happened. One of their lawyers, Christopher Mattei, told the jury it can “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. A suit by another set of Sandy Hook victims is pending.

    The Waterbury trial before Judge Barbara Bellis is solely for the jury to determine how much Jones owes in compensation. 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 default was an unusual legal sanction or punishment of Jones for abusing court procedure and failing to participate in reciprocal exchanges of information with the victims. Jones cannot defend himself under the default finding, but can try to minimize compensatory and punitive damages.

    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.

    So far in the trial, lawyers for the victim families have given the jury evidence — most of it video clips from his broadcasts and analyses of web traffic to his multiple internet sites — that suggest he was aware that his Sandy Hook hoax broadcasts resulted in increased audience and spikes in sales at the retail sites where he sells nutritional supplements and survivalist supplies.

    The Parkers are among several relatives of victims who have been asked by their lawyers to watch video clips of Jones calling them actors and liars and then, often in tears, describe being threatened and tormented by usually anonymous people who subscribe to his conspiratorial views.

    The families are expected to complete their case to the jury when the trial resumes Tuesday. Jones testified earlier when called by the families. He is expected to appear as a witness again next week when his lawyer, Norm Pattis, tries to mitigate any damage award.

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