Was Adam Lanza really the only shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Why are there supposed inconsistencies surrounding the weapons that were used during the attack? And are some of the parents really "crisis actors" brought in to make the situation that much more believable?
Those are only a few of the questions that have been posed by conspiracy theorists who have used the Internet to virally spread their doubt about the horrific massacre that unfolded in Connecticut on Dec. 14.
The main crux of the arguments presented in documentary-style videos is that the Sandy Hook massacre is either a government-planned hoax intended to lead the nation to overwhelmingly embrace increased gun control measures. Or, at the least, those who have put the videos out believe that essential information is being withheld from the American public surrounding multiple shooters and other game-changing elements. The motivations of those who have created these theories are difficult to pin down, as most are spouting their views anonymously.
A video documenting purported inconsistencies surrounding the tragedy that killed 20 children and six adults inside the school has gone viral, gaining more than 11 million views in just two weeks. And a follow-up "documentary" has also been released, adding further “evidence” to the claim that the event either didn’t unfold at all or that it happened contrary to the media narrative that has been advanced.
To most people, the idea that any of it is true is repulsive. So we decided to visit the most popular of the theories and break them down in a point-by-point debunk.
In addition to questioning the official account of weapons used and whether or not crisis actors were employed by the government, theorists have taken aim at parental reaction to the shootings and have claimed that memorial pages for the victims were published before the shooting took place. And these notions only scratch the surface that is the bizarre world of Sandy Hook Trutherism.
The shadowy individual behind the first video, entitled, “The Sandy Hook Shooting – Fully Exposed” (30 minutes in length), weaves together sparse details and attempts to poke holes in the overall story. As for the first video, Snopes.com, a web site known for debunking untruthful information, dismissed it as “a mixture of misinformation, innuendo, and subjective interpretation.” You can see the clip here:
The second part of the Truther initiative, titled, “Sandy Hook Fully Exposed” (19 minutes in length) tackles similar themes, builds upon the first video and attempts to defend those individuals who are questioning the details associated with the event. In addition to asking a variety of questions about family members who lost children, the videos even devote time to questioning whether "crisis actors" were brought in to speak with media in the wake of the attack. See Part II, below:
“Isn’t something like Sandy Hook just what the government needs to start disarming the public so they don’t have to worry about people being a threat to them anymore?,’ text embedded in the video reads.
TheBlaze has decided to go through both videos to provide you with a recap of the major points that Truthers are raising. In addition to presenting the arguments that those perpetuating an alleged hoax are positing, you’ll see reasonable explanations that essentially debunk their claims and questions. In any crime scene – especially one as traumatic and dramatic as what unfolded at Sandy Hook – information flows quickly and it isn’t uncommon for incorrect details to make their way into media. This, as you will see, is the case when it comes to numerous elements surrounding this tragic shooting.
THE MAN IN THE WOODS & ADDITIONAL SHOOTERS
Sandy Hook Truthers have spent a great deal of time and energy reporting about a man who was allegedly chased in the woods nearby the school; the individual was subsequently apprehended and the entire spectacle is captured on video -- footage that is now being used to advance the idea that there was another shooter. The first "expose" shows media interviews with witnesses who claim to have seen this individual in handcuffs following the incident. If it is true that there was more than one shooter, this would obviously turn on its head everything that has been said about a lone murderer (i.e. Lanza).
The man in the woods, though, isn't the only theory about additional shooters floating around. Additionally, others claim that there were two men who fled the scene in a van. Initial media reports did say that there may have been more than one shooter involved, but as the details came in and the events were clarified, Lanza was the only gunman named and the evidence cleared every other initial suspect.
While conspiracy theorists continue to question where these additional suspects are and why the media has allegedly failed to report about them, there are some pretty convincing counter arguments and debunks surrounding this matter.
Heavily armed Connecticut State troopers are on the scene at the Sandy Hook School following a shooting at the school, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. A man opened fire inside the Connecticut elementary school where his mother worked Friday, killing 26 people, including 18 children, and forcing students to cower in classrooms and then flee with the help of teachers and police. (AP Photo/The Journal News, Frank Becerra Jr.) MANDATORY CREDIT, NYC OUT, NO SALES, TV OUT, NEWSDAY OUT; MAGS OUT Photo: Frank Becerra Jr., AP
The Newtown Bee, a local outlet, reported that a law enforcement official told them that the man seen in the woods had a gun and was nearby the school. He was apparently an off-duty tactical squad police officer from a nearby area. Also, Chris Manfredonia, the father of a 6-year-old student at the school, was handcuffed briefly by police after he ran around the school in an effort to find his daughter. And another unidentified man was briefly detained, but later released when he was found to be an innocent bystander, Snopes.com claims.
Those being interviewed by media likely saw one of these individuals, leading Truthers to suspect something sinister. Lt. Paul Vance, a media relations representative with the State of Connecticut, dismissed the notion that there were other shooters, while also highlighting and confirming the fact that authorities did end up detaining and quickly releasing other individuals.
“Were there other people detained?,” Vance rhetorically asked. “The answer is yes. In the height of the battle, until you’ve determined who, what, when, where and why of everyone in existence…that’s not unusual.”
THE WEAPONS USED INSIDE THE SCHOOL & THE VICTIMS’ BODIES
Another point of contention that Truthers seem to be focusing upon is the weapons that Lanza used in committing his crime. In the first video, the narrator claims that, according to media, three guns were found at the scene (two handguns and one assault rifle). Four handguns were also allegedly found inside the school. The inconsistency here comes from the Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, the chief medical examiner, who said following the incident that the assault rifle appeared to be responsible for the children’s deaths.
Here's why Truthers are jumping all over the claims surrounding the assault rifle. The first video alleging a hoax claims that this particular weapon was later recovered from the trunk of the car that Lanza was driving. If this is the case, then critics are questioning how Carver’s claims could be possible. The shooter clearly couldn’t have used the assault rifle to commit his crimes if the weapon was in the trunk of the car the entire time.
In this photo illustration a Rock River Arms AR-15 rifle is seen on December 18, 2012 in Miami, Florida. Credit: Getty Images
But there’s an understandable answer here as well. A few days after the attack, clarity surrounding the guns finally emerged. Lanza left a shotgun in the car, but he had three other weapons that were brought into the school – a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm (the latter two are handguns). The fourth weapon – the shotgun – was left in the vehicle’s trunk. Carver was correct in making his claim that it was the AR-15 that was responsible for the children’s deaths – a firearm that was not in the trunk as the first video indicates (CNN actually has a great primer on the weapons that expounds upon this in detail).
While we’re on the subject of Carver, it’s important to dispel another rumor – that the parents never saw their children’s bodies. While they did not identify the bodies in their entirety, pictures of the kids’ faces were provided to the families. This wasn’t done to be sinister or to hide details; quite the contrary, the doctor was trying to spare the families the pain of seeing the horrific injuries the children sustained, so photos of their faces were used instead.
SCHOOL NURSE’S ALLEGED CLAIMS ABOUT THE KILLER’S MOTHER
Andrea McCarren, a reporter for WUSA, reported in the wake of the killings about a conversation she had with Sally Cox, the Sandy Hook school nurse. Cox, who McCarren described as “fairly traumatized,” apparently told the reporter that she knew the killer’s mother, a kindergarten teacher at the school. Initially, media reported that Lanza may have been the son of a teacher, but this was soon dispelled.
Truthers are questioning this story, though, obviously wondering how McCarren was given information about the killer and his mother that ended up being entirely untrue (they argue that the school nurse should have had the information correct and that her mention of a teacher at Sandy Hook is curious, especially considering the details we now know).
During McCarren's report, the journalist also said that the nurse expounded, claiming that Cox said that the kindergarten teacher was kind and exactly the person one would want his or her children to spend time with. Snopes notes that the USA Today also “mistakenly reported…that Nancy Lanza” was a teacher at the school. Perhaps this report and McCarren’s were based on the same misinformation.
Sally Cox's credentials in the State of Connecticut (Photo Credit: CT.gov)
Some have also claimed that Cox is also not a registered nurse, but her real name is Sarah and a search of that name does, indeed, yield results that show that the woman is a registered nurse in the state’s registration system. Since "Sally" isn't her birth name, it's obvious that a license attacked to that name isn't available in the Connecticut database (see above).
ROBBIE/EMILIE PARKER & LYNN/GRACE MCDONNELL
Emilie Parker, one of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook, is a central character in Truthers’ questioning, as they throw a number of theories about her very person and her family's reaction to her death into the mix. In addition to claiming that the young girl was Photoshopped into at least one family image, those questioning official accounts claim that her father, Robbie Parker, can be seen getting “into character” before a press conference -- something they dismiss as proof that he may, indeed, be acting or playing the role of a grieving father.
This latter accusation relies upon footage of Robbie purportedly laughing before a press conference. In the clip, he can be seen smiling, taking a moment to compose himself and then allowing emotion to overtake him. “How many parents are laughing and joking a day after their first child has been shot,” a text message reads across the screen in the first hoax video. Later, the words, “I smell B.S.,” are added to describe the father’s reaction.
The video also claims that Parker wasn’t in her class photos and that she appears in images with President Barack Obama following the shooting (something that obviously wouldn’t be possible had she been killed during the incident). But the below video explains that the little girl shown in the image is one of Emilie’s sisters, not the young girl who perished just days before:
At least one other parent was targeted for the same reason – for appearing too chipper in the wake of losing a daughter in the horrific incident. Footage of Lynn McDonnell, mother of a child named Grace, came under scrutiny after the parent spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper about her immense loss. While remembering her young child, she expressed facial expressions of joy. However, considering the content of her commentary (she was remembering her young child) it seemed entirely appropriate (in fact, TheBlaze covered the inspirational interview when it aired in December).
CHILD SECURITY EVENT PLANNED FOR DEC. 14
Those embracing the notion that Sandy Hook was a hoax also question an event that was put on by the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (this department falls under the state’s Division of Emergency Services and Public Protection). This particular event was purportedly planned before the shooting and aimed at helping explore strategies for protecting kids in the result of emergency situations like what happened that same day at Sandy Hook.
A list of classes that occurred before the training that has come under scrutiny (Photo Credit: CT.gov)
This event did occur, but it isn’t as surprising as some might assume. On the surface, it may seem odd that the FEMA class, called “Planning for the Needs of Children in Disasters,” was offered on the same day that Sandy Hook unfolded. But this course was also offered six additional times in the state of Connecticut during November and December. It wasn't a rare occurrence only planned on the day of the shooting; it was an event that had been repeatedly held within the state's boundaries during recent days and weeks.
MEMORIAL PAGES & ASSOCIATED INTERNET TIMESTAMPS
The Truthers are particularly fired up about various memorial pages and social media initiatives that they claim were created days before Lanza’s crimes at the elementary school. In addition to teacher Victoria Soto’s Facebook memorial page, which they claim was created on Dec. 10, four days before the shooting, the individuals behind the video and movement also point to a GoFundMe initiative, among others, as also having timestamps that precede the event.
Inquisitr explained how the Internet, despite being quite advanced, still has its hiccups. Here's a brief recap that explains some of the reasons behind date stamps seeming incorrect on various posts and web sites:
To understand the Sandy Hook websites that seem to have been published early, you must first understand the way the internet reconciles dates as well as how Google crawls them. If a page is repurposed to host other information than it originally displayed, it may show up as having been “published” earlier.
Further, servers and sites often have incorrect dates. Having used a number of WordPress panels in my career, it is a job to keep track of where dates and times are set in order to avoid publishing in the past when scheduling a post, something that could be at play and an easily explainable factor not often acknowledged by Sandy Hook truthers.
And given the fact material can run afoul on an individual computer, a site’s panel and then a search engine, sites like the United Way’s Sandy Hook page could easily register as a prior date on Google.
When it comes to Google results – another target the Truthers point to – the Internet giant isn’t always correct. Sometimes, search results have the incorrect dates associated with them, clearly a factor that is overlooked in the conspiracy theory videos. As for the web sites that seem to have an earlier date stamp, another theory is that certain donation and Facebook pages that were created for other reasons were edited and amended to assist with Sandy Hook efforts following the shooting. While they retained their earlier creation date, their intended purposes changed.
TheBlaze spoke with Justin Basch, CEO of Basch Solutions, a web site production company. The tech expert dismissed conspiracy theorists' claims, calling them "nonsense." He explained the many ways that dates can be manipulated in WordPress (the platform running at least one of the web sites at the center of the debate).
"It's very, very easy to manipulate a date that content was published -- whether it's through text, whether it's through date manipulation, etc.," Basch explained.
THE SYMPATHETIC AND HELPFUL NEIGHBOR: GENE ROSEN
Then there’s Gene Rosen, the neighbor who lives nearby Sandy Hook. He began appearing in media immediately following the shooting, telling of his involvement in housing six children who had escaped the school that fateful morning. Rosen has been interviewed numerous times by the mainstream media and he has explained how he entertained the children inside of his home after they fled the school in terror.
The Truthers, though, claim that Rosen’s story has some troubling inconsistencies. Among them, they charge that he is a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG), a professional union of acting professionals (thus, advancing the theory that he might be a crisis actor). They also claim that Rosen’s story about discovering the children in his driveway changed and evolved during various appearances. While in some interviews he described the six kids sitting with a female bus driver, in at least one other account, he described a male adult talking harshly to the children, the video proclaims.
Additionally, Rosen, a retired psychologist, told reporters that the children told him their teacher, Ms. Soto, was dead. Initially, some media reported that only one child escaped the classroom where the majority of the kids perished, but this ended up not being the case (others seemingly escaped as well). Rosen also said in one interview that he saw the list of victims not long after the shooting, but conspiracy theorists claim this isn’t possible, as it wasn’t released until after the time he claims to have seen it.
A list of casualties, though, was released the day after the shooting and, as Snopes documents, the Gene Rosen who is a member of SAG is a different individual – one who has never lived in Connecticut. The retired psychologist at the center of this particular case has always lived in the state (while both are in their 60s, the actor is 62 and the Newtown resident is 69).
LANZA’S VEHICLE ON THE DAY OF THE SHOOTING
In the second video, which spent some time defending Truthers against attacks, an bizarre claim is made about the vehicle that Lanza drove to Sandy Hook on Dec. 14. While it has been widely reported that the car belonged to his mother, whom he also shot dead before heading to the school that morning, hoax theorists believe that the car is registered to a man named Chris Rodia.
While it may be tempting for those looking for holes in the story to wonder if Rodia was complicit in helping Lanza with the attack, Snopes.com debunks this, claiming that Rodia was pulled over at a traffic stop and, thus, ended up being named on a police scanner. Salon recaps how this particular element of the story was debunked:
This one was debunked by the theorists themselves just a few days after the shooting. Blogger Joe Quinn obtained the police audio, which definitively debunking the myth. (Rodia appeared on the scanner because he was getting pulled over in a traffic stop miles away, but his license plate doesn’t match Lanza’s car). “This was a huge blow, because lots of people were making big leaps on this … but we now have to look elsewhere,” another amateur investigator said on YouTube.
To clarify: Rodia is not a suspect and he did not own the car that Lanza drove to the school, as the video seems to allege. Rodia was also not at the school at the time of the shooting. Snopes claims that “he was driving a different vehicle in another town at the time.”
CRISIS ACTORS DEPICTED IN MEDIA
Truthers’ have gone out of their way (there’s even a disclaimer at the start of the first video) to claim that they are not trying to dismiss the event as though it never happened. Instead, they say that they are merely asking pertinent questions and, in a sense, exercising their civic duty as caring and in-tune Americans (a tactic likely being used to separate themselves from the criticism being thrown their way). Among those curiosities, a consistent theme emerges: The idea that crisis actors were used.
We already covered Rosen and the theory that he is one of these individuals. But there are others who are being dubbed potential crisis actors. One couple in particularly has come under scrutiny. CNN interviewed Nick and Laura Phelps, parents of two children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the exchange, Nick becomes emotional while describing the principal at the school as “a very special person.” It's clear that the family was impacted by what unfolded.
But Truthers question the motivations, sincerity and identity of Nick and Laura, claiming that they may actually be Richard and Jennifer Sexton, two actors from Florida. This bizarre claim -- that the couple was brought in to merely depict parents who have children at Sandy Hook Elementary, is one of the more curious ones being floated. The evidence being posited?
The hoax video shows images from an alleged Picasa account belonging to Richard and Jennifer (the actors). Those who believe that something isn't quite right about Sandy Hook claim that the photo album was deleted after it gained attention. In addition, Truthers are using a clip showing Laura (or Jennifer) giving what appears to be an audition or performance.
But Snopes claims that the husband and wife duos merely resemble one another and that they are not, in fact, the same individuals. While the videos seem to indicate that there may be a connection between the Crisis Actors company – a group that provides actors to simulate traumatic and disastrous events, there is no connection between the actors provided by the group and the individuals shown in media interviews. Plus, a simple web search shows that the family does, indeed, live near the school.
Crisis Actors (the company) also makes it clear that its performers do not engage in real-life events. While the video alleges connections between the Sandy Hook families and these individuals, no such connections exist. In fact, the company has gone out of its way to dispel such rumors.
See Anderson Cooper address some of these controversies:
UNDERSTANDING THE VIDEOS AND THEIR CREATOR
While the conspiracy-laden clips have intrigued some, others find themselves completely horrified, sickened and offended by their contents -- especially considering the pain that the families of Sandy Hook victims have already endured. Following the publication of the first video, reaction and media coverage was swift. As noted, the creator of the videos made it a point to vehemently defend himself against critics.
“This video was made to clear up confusion and shed light on new information. Apologies to anyone offended by the past videos,” a caveat at the beginning of the second clip reads. “[W]e hope this one is easier to digest. Would you rather be hurt temporarily by the truth, or comforted forever by lies?”
Later, the anonymous individual behind the clips claims that it is unfair for critics to label him and others supporting his ideas as “Truthers” – or even “conspiracy theorists.” Such labels, text embedded in the video reads, implies that those questioning the event are “over the top, crazy, and against everyone else.”
“These are millions of everyday people that deserve answers to their questions,” the text continues. “And it seems by labeling them like that, it’s easier to dismiss them and not have to look at the facts.”
Mourners embrace following funeral services for Connecticut elementary shooting victim Emilie Parker, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Ogden, Utah. Emilie, 6, whose family has Ogden roots, was one of 20 children and six adult victims killed in a Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Credit: AP
However, those looking to debunk the Sandy Hook debunkers would dismiss these views as fringe. Even the person who created, “The Sandy Hook Shooting – Fully Exposed” and its companion video was surprised by its viral nature. In an interview with Gawker before the video released, he seemed surprised by its viral nature, telling the outlet that he would have “spent more time on it” if he knew it would be so popular. TheBlaze reached out to him to get further comment, but we did not receive a response.
"[I]t all started when me and my friends used to research 9/11 in high school," said the source, who refused to identify himself to Gawker. "That's what really got me started when it came to researching government cover ups…Once I learned about all the false flag attacks in history that have been proven to be true, I knew it was only a matter of time before another came a long."
Apparently, in the mind of the individual behind the videos (which were published on a YouTube channel under the account ThinkOutsideTheTV), Sandy Hook was next in this purported line of government cover-ups. The individual went on to tell the outlet that he felt as though the event was “too perfect” and that the people and the town involved had an “artificial vibe about them.”
Since Sandy Hook unfolded, other conspiracy theories have emerged, although the aforementioned YouTube clips have become the most pervasive and widespread. TheBlaze already told you about James Tracy, a communications professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and his controversial comments about the Sandy Hook massacre.
Tracy, too, appeared on radio interviews, where he advanced the crisis actor angle, claiming that the Obama administration might have deployed these individuals to stage the attack in an effort to further crack down on guns. On his personal blog, he cited InfoWars.com as well. Later, he clarified his comments, claiming that while “one is left with the impression that a real tragedy took place,” images and information have been withheld from the public.
The entire ordeal, which captured national attention and was covered by TheBlaze earlier this month, led FAU to separate itself from Tracy’s comments. Lisa Metcalf, director of media relations, said, “James Tracy does not speak for the university.”
In the same Blaze report, Jason Howerton covered Dr. James H. Fetzer, a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). In an op-ed published in an Iranian (state-owned, of course) outlet, he charged that, perhaps, the Mossad (Israeli security forces) were responsible for the attack.
“The killing of children is a signature of terror ops conducted by agents of Israel,” he wrote. “[W]ho better to slaughter American children than Israelis, who deliberately murder Palestinian children?”
Parents leave a staging area after being reunited with their children following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of New York City, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. An official with knowledge of Friday's shooting said 27 people were dead, including 18 children. It was the worst school shooting in the country's history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
These, of course, of just two of the numerous alternative conspiracy theories being floated. There are plenty of other ideas that have circulated since Dec. 14. However, the growth in popularity of the latest videos creates some serious questions that deserve to be answered in order to properly educate readership.
At least one father of a first-grader at Sandy Hook took the issue to heart, showcasing his frustration in an on-air phone call that was placed to radio host Glenn Beck. The father, named "Pete," expressed his dismay at the conspiracy theories, calling Trutherism an "unimaginable way to even look at a tragedy or horrific event."
"I was there. I’ve been to the funerals," he told Beck. "I know the families very closely. I know a lot of those children. It happened. It really happened."
But if thats not convincing enough, consider BuzzFeed's logic: "The evidence on which these budding theories are based is, even by the standards of fringe conspiracy theory, remarkably thin, and demand massive collusion between hundreds of private citizens, the federal government, local authorities, and the news media."
While the viral nature of the videos has begun to simmer, the mainstream media has not provided a level of coverage that would disseminate the truth fervently enough to dispel the rumors. Setting the record straight and showcasing the truth, though, is essential.