The sister of a teacher killed in the 2012 elementary school shooting broadcaster Alex Jones called a hoax gave riveting testimony in the “Infowars” host’s defamation hearing Tuesday.
A jury of three men and three women watched Carlee Soto Parisi fight back tears as she spoke about the emotional day her older sister and 25 others were gunned down in two grade school classrooms.
What followed, she said, was an onslaught of threats and harassment from Jones’ supporters who believed him when he suggested the victims in that killing were conspirators in a plot to strengthen national gun laws.
The 29-year-old witness described her sister, Vicki Soto, as an enthusiastic advocate for education. Parisi, who was 19 at the time, recalled speaking with Soto about her own plans for college on what would be the last night they spent together.
She then recalled getting word on Dec. 14 that there had been a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, while Soto was working.
Parisi told jurors that after news broke that a gunman had shot up the Newtown, Conn., campus, she waited at a barrier set up by police, hoping her sister would come walking out of the school.
She said she had never heard of Alex Jones, nor did she have any idea he was expressing skepticism on “Infowars” about whether or not the massacre had really occurred.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case asked Parisi if she saw any sign of actors or pranksters at the crime scene that made her suspicious. She had not.
“Everyone was just questioning where their loved one was,” she told jurors.
Parisi said she called her sister hoping for the best, but got no answer. FBI agent William Aldenberg, who also testified Tuesday, said he saw Soto’s phone buzzing near her body in the schoolhouse where she laid with more than two dozen other victims.
After spending two to three hours outside Sandy Hook Elementary, Parisi and her parents were moved to a nearby firehouse, where they and other family members of those killed at the school were told they’d seen those loves ones for the last time.
“Everyone in that room had lost someone,” she testified.
It wouldn’t be long before she started seeing communications online accusing her and other survivors of being part of a plot. These theories were promoted by Jones.
“I had no idea why anyone would make this up,” Parisi recalled. “I was so confused.”
The harassment went on for years, Parisi said, even after she moved to North Carolina with her new family. Her loved ones’ contact information was shared online, she claimed. Threatening emails and harassing social media messages ensued.
“I feared for our lives,” Parisi claimed.
She recalled online conspiracy theorists questioning whether she or her sister ever existed. Photos appeared on the Web that right-wing activists scrutinized for clues of artificiality like “my hair was too straight or my arm was bent the wrong way,” she recalled.
Parisi’s family hoped in vain the harassment would stop, then joined in a lawsuit against Jones in 2018, she claimed. She struggled to cope with strangers calling her and her family liars as they mourned the gruesome death of a loved one.
“You feel so small. You can’t do anything about it,” Parisi told the court. “It’s hurtful. It’s devastating. It’s crippling.”
Jones opted to stay in Austin, Texas, to host “Infowars” Tuesday while the opening day of his hearing in Connecticut — 20 miles from where the Sandy Hook massacre took place — played out. He was found liable for defamation in 2021 after failing to comply with court orders. The trial in Connecticut is to determine damages owed to the plaintiffs in the case. He was ordered to pay nearly $50 million to his victims in a similar case in Texas last month. In that case, Jones testified that he now believes the massacre was real.
The gunman responsible for the killings at Sandy Hook, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound following the rampage at his former school. Before driving 5 miles to the grade school, he shot his mother, who’d legally purchased the weapon used in the slaying.