WATERBURY, Conn. — The father of a 6-year-old boy who died in the Sandy Hook massacre nearly 10 years ago gave his testimony during the defamation trial against conspiracy theorist and InfoWars host Alex Jones on Wednesday.
The goal of the plaintiff was to show the jury the tangible pain and anguish that the lies of Alex Jones caused.
On the 6th day of the trial, David Wheeler, who son Benjamin was one of the 20 students killed in Newtown shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, opened up the weeks and months after the shooting and how he and his family were harassed by Jones’ fans.
“The best way to describe it is I felt like I was under water,” he said.
In the day's most emotional moment, he recalled a routine night in the Wheeler household where Ben got upset and bit him. “I sat him down on the bed and I said sweetheart, you can’t bite people. He looked at me and said, but Dad, I had to bite something. Now I’m kind of glad he did. I have a scar,” explained Wheeler.
OUTSIDE THE COURTHOUSE: Alex Jones continues criticism of trial on courthouse steps, announces update in bankruptcy
“To have someone publicly telling the world it didn’t happen and that you are a fraud and phony is incredibly disorienting,” Wheeler said. “You’re already fighting, and I can’t understand why anyone in the world would think that, I can’t figure it out.”
In the days that followed Ben’s death, the Wheeler family, stricken by grief and secluded in their home were the subjects of ridicule and harassment by followers of Alex Jones. Wheeler explained how he received unsolicited Facebook messages.
"People were accusing me of lying. Telling me Ben never lived. Telling me that I was going to burn in hell and pay for what I had done,” Wheeler added. “And that continued for quite a while.”
Wheeler recounted when, “a number of times,” someone would come to the house and ask for Ben, insisting that he was alive and at home.
“A woman came to the house demanding to see Ben saying he was alive. Someone else coming to the house saying he was a reporter,” Wheeler recalled.
Explaining the tragedy and the aftermath to his other son Nate was difficult, Wheeler said.
“[Nate] didn’t want to be associated with it at all,” Wheeler said.
Mattei asked, “He didn’t want to be singled out as the brother?”
“Correct,” Wheeler replied.
Wheeler said he took time to research what people were saying about the shooting and had come across a theory that he and Bill Aldenberg, and FBI agent who responded to the scene, were the same person.
“...And it’s insane, absolutely insane,” Wheeler said.
The Wheelers were amongst other Sandy Hook families that claim their safety felt compromised due to the theories spreading online and becoming targets as a result.
Wheeler ended with, "One of the first things I recognize after Ben was murdered, was that if this could happen to me, in our little town, it can happen to anybody.”
Erica Lafferty, whose mom Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung was the principal at Sandy Hook and died in the shooting, also took the stand on Wednesday.
Lafferty talked about her mom earning her undergrad with two kids to raise, and how Dawn worked her way up the education ladder to become principal of Sandy Hook Elementary in 2010.
Dawn was pursuing a doctorate at the time of the 2012 tragedy.
Lafferty recalled her mom, “She was witty and fast-talking and sarcastic and just a very strong presence.”
“Her heart was with kids, always,” Lafferty added.
Hocksprung died trying to save students by confronting the shooter as he barged into the school.
“Anyone who spent more than five minutes knew that that’s what she was born to do,” said Lafferty. “She loved kids more than life itself.”
The testimony from other families continued throughout the day, including that of Jen Hensel, whose child, Avielle Richman, died in the shooting.
"The week after, there were just funerals," Hensel said. "We would see other families' funeral processions going past our house."
She added that that was part of the reason why she spread details of Avielle's funeral by word of mouth and tried not to publicize it.
"We had heard things at this point that some people thought that this was not a real event," Hensel said.
"If you stood up, the whole world was not right, and you feel like you were going to fly off the Earth...because everything was wrong that week," Hensel said through tears.
"We didn't think we were part of it, outside of this general thought...It was relentless," Hensel recounted.
Hensel’s husband Jeremy died of suicide years after the Sandy Hook shooting. She told the Hartford Courant in 2019 that he "succumbed to the grief that he could not escape" of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
The plaintiff is not claiming that the defendant is a direct cause for Jeremy's suicide and is not seeking damages a result of his death.
In between these testimonies, the attorneys bickered about addressing public statements made by victims’ family members about the Second Amendment.
Jones’ attorney, Norm Pattis, wanted to address and probe Wheeler about being at an event with his wife on behalf of Michelle and Barack Obama, where she showed support for gun control.
He also wanted to probe about whether Wheeler was aware of Jones’ gun control stances, and even Wheeler’s personal gun stances before and after the tragedy.
Judge Barbara Bellis reiterated for several days that she does not want politics brought into the trial.
“Anytime I hear Trump, Obama, Clinton, I’m going to tell the jury that this trial is not about politics or elections,” Bellis added.
Pattis tried to revisit the topic several times, including by playing a Jones clip mentioning the Second Amendment.
Wheeler said he still supports responsible gun ownership but says some of his views of assault weapons changed in the wake of the massacre.
“When the news came out about the weapon that was used to murder my son. The specifics of that weapon and the availability of such a thing. I found it shocking. I was aghast. I couldn’t believe it,” he responded.
The trial continues on Thursday. Jones is expected to testify as soon as Thursday. Norm Pattis, told FOX61 he “won’t be able to control” Jones.
Leah Myers is a digital content producer at FOX61 News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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