The parents of one of the 20 children slain in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 took the witness stand in the defamation trial against Alex Jones in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, telling the jury that the Infowars founder was the primary catalyst for spreading the false claim that the massacre was fake.
"Alex lit the flame that started the fire," Neil Heslin, the father of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, said during cross-examination by Jones's defense attorney. "Other people brought some wood to add to it."
"Alex had a platform and a very strong voice,” Heslin said. “He had power, and that resonated with a lot of people."
Scarlett Lewis, Jesse’s mother, recalled seeing a photo circulating of Sandy Hook’s choir, which had been invited to perform at the Super Bowl, a few weeks after the killings. The image had the names of Jesse and other children who died at Sandy Hook superimposed over the choir members, as if they were still alive.
“It was deeply unsettling,” Scarlett Lewis said. “It was so out of touch with reality. It was scary.”
Heslin and Lewis are suing Jones and his media company Free Speech Systems for $150 million for the harassment they've been exposed to as a result of Infowars' spreading the unfounded notion that the attack that killed their son, 19 other children and six educators on Dec. 14, 2012, was staged.
Their lawyer said Monday that the parents have gone into isolation with a round-the-clock security detail, after an unspecified number of “encounters” while they've been in Texas for the two-week trial.
Heslin began his testimony by describing the bullet holes on Jesse’s body in graphic detail — to refute the suggestion, in a tape played earlier in the trial, of an Infowars segment that falsely asserted he never saw his deceased son after the massacre.
Scarlett Lewis testified that she can’t comprehend such a “crazy” conspiracy. The family, she said, had an open casket at Jesse’s wake, which was held five days after the shootings.
They each said that quite apart from the trauma they suffered from Jesse's death, the denials and harassment they have been subjected to thanks to Jones and like-minded conspiracy theorists have been too much for them to bear.
"I wake up at night with panic attacks,” Heslin said. “I was in the hospital a few weeks ago with heart pain."
Lewis testified about emails she received from Wolfgang Halbig, a Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist and Infowars guest, asking for detailed answers to a list of 51 questions about Jesse's death.
"You try to process the death of a child, and we've tried to do that," she said. "But you can't process this."
A voicemail from a woman who was jailed for threatening the parents of Noah Pozner, another child killed at Sandy Hook, was played for the jury.
Both Heslin and Lewis said they have received similar death threats from people inspired by Jones since the massacre. Heslin said his home was shot at by someone who shouted Jones’s name.
Roy Lubit, a psychiatrist hired by the plaintiffs, testified Monday that Jesse’s parents both suffer from a complex form of posttraumatic stress disorder.
They each sleep with weapons by their bed, and don’t turn on their air conditioning out of fear they won't hear something dangerous nearby, Lubit said.
The parents were the last witnesses called by the attorneys for the plaintiffs. Jones is expected to take the stand in his own defense later Tuesday.
Heslin said he doesn’t care whether Jones apologizes to them in court.
“An apology from Alex Jones is worthless,” Heslin said. “I don't think Alex Jones is capable of a sincere apology.”
During cross-examination, Andino Reynal, Jones’s lead attorney, asked about Heslin’s assertion that he had a “vendetta” for the Infowars founder.
“When you use the term 'vendetta,' a vendetta is a blood feud, right?” Reynal asked.
“I don't know if I define it that way,” Heslin replied. “I don't have a blood feud with Alex Jones.”
He added: “Alex Jones started the fight, and I'm going to finish it.”