The parents of one of the 20 children killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., took the witness stand in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, telling a jury that the Infowars founder was the primary catalyst for the spread his false claim that the 2012 massacre was fake.
“Alex lit the flame that lit the fire,” Neal Heslin, the father of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, said during cross-examination by Jones’ defense attorney. “Others 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 circulated of the Sandy Hook 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 above the choir members.
“It was deeply disturbing,” said Scarlett Lewis. “The idea that these kids were actually the victims, alive — it was so out of touch with reality. It was terrifying.”
Heslin and Lewis are suing Jones and media company Free Speech Systems for $150 million for harassment they received as a result of Infowars spreading the conspiracy theory that the attack that killed their son, 19 other children and six teachers in December 14, 2012, uploaded.
Their attorney said Monday that the parents have been isolated by a 24-hour security detail after an unspecified number of “meetings” while in Texas for the two-week trial.
Heslin began his testimony by describing the bullet holes in Jesse’s body in graphic detail — and a transcript of a tape played earlier in the trial of an Infowars segment that falsely suggested he never saw his deceased son after the massacre.
Scarlett Lewis testified that she cannot fathom such a “crazy” conspiracy. The family, he said, had an open casket for Jesse, which was kept five days after the shootings.
They each said Jesse’s death was traumatic enough, but the denials and harassment instigated by Jones and his fellow conspiracy theorists were too much 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 tried to do that,” he said. “But you can’t edit that.”
A voicemail from a woman jailed for threatening the parents of Noah Posner, another child killed in Sandy Hook, was played for a jury.
Both Heslin and Lewis said they have received similar death threats from people inspired by Jones after the massacre. Neil Heslin said his house was shot at by someone who shouted Jones’ name.
Roy Lubit, a psychiatrist hired by the plaintiffs, testified Monday that Jesse’s parents also suffer from a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Everyone sleeps with guns next to their beds and doesn’t turn on the air conditioning for fear of hearing something dangerous nearby, Lubitt said.
The parents were the last witnesses called by the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Jones is expected to take the stand in his own defense later Tuesday.
Heslin said he doesn’t care if Jones apologizes to them in court.
“An apology from Alex Jones is worthless,” Heslin said. “I don’t think Alex Jones can offer a sincere apology.”
During cross-examination, Andino Reynal, Jones’ lead attorney, asked about Heslin’s claim that he had a “feud” against the Infowars founder.
“When you use the term vendetta, a vendetta is a vendetta, right?” Raynal asked.
“I don’t know if I define it that way,” Heslin replied. “I have no blood feud with Alex Jones.”
He added: “Alex Jones started the fight and I’m going to finish it.”