The parents of one of the first-graders gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School nearly 10 years ago have gone into isolation while in Texas for their defamation case against “Infowars” hoax peddler Alex Jones, their lawyer testified Monday.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, who lost their 6-year-old son Jesse in the December 2012 massacre, have had to hire security since they arrived in Austin, where the trial is being held because it’s where Jones and his businesses are headquartered.
“Unfortunately, due to some encounters this week outside of the courthouse, Neil and Scarlett have gone into isolation under the protection of security professionals,” the family’s attorney, Mark Bankston, said in a statement obtained by the Danbury News Times.
Six adults and 20 children died in the shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012. It remains the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
“They are in isolation and they are going to stay that way, and all I can tell you is they are terrified right now,” Bankston said in court.
For years, Jones maintained that the shooting did not happen. His vociferousness appealed to followers and fellow conspiratorialists. Some of them threatened the parents, even shooting at Heslin’s home and accosting him on the street, testified forensic psychiatrist Roy Lubit, hired by the plaintiffs to review the parents’ trauma.
He said that Lewis had told him she’d installed sophisticated surveillance equipment at her home and sleeps with a gun, a knife and pepper spray close by. The two suffer from a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by both the loss of their son and the ensuing trauma, which imbues them with a constant fear that adherents to Jones’ lies will kill them.
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Their PTSD goes beyond the grief of losing a child and is more akin to the constant barrage of what soldiers go through in war zones, or the experience of children who are suffering ongoing abuse, Lubit said. And it is a form of erasure, a Connecticut psychologist who has treated both parents said.
“If Alex Jones, if he was spreading the belief, the lies, that Neil’s an actor, that means Jesse doesn’t exist. Which is crazy,” therapist Michael Crouch said. “You’re taking away what they know of their son, what they want to hold on to.”
Although Heslin and Lewis have been in court daily since the trial began last month, they stayed away on Monday morning, when Lubit gave his testimony, on the advice of their therapists. They both plan to testify, Bankston said.
“Neil and Scarlett are committed to finishing this trial because this moment is bigger than just them,” Bankston wrote in his statement.
Jones has already been found liable for defamation in Connecticut and Texas for spreading lies about the dead children and teachers, the bereaved parents, and the shooting. The trial will determine what he owes the families of two of the victims. Several of the victims’ families have filed lawsuits with similar allegations, saying that they’ve been harassed and received death threats over Jones’s assertion that the mass shooting was a hoax.
Lewis and Heslin are seeking $150 million in damages from Jones. His media company, Free Speech Systems, announced on Friday it had filed for bankruptcy. His other businesses had filed in April, causing trial delays, but Jones’ lawyer, Andino Reynal, told Judge Maya Guerra Gamble this one would not have an impact.
With News Wire Services