The pastor of a Newtown, Connecticut parish, with ties to several Sandy Hook shooting victims, said he hopes the Oct. 12 verdict in the defamation case brought against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones brings the families involved “some kind of closure, some kind of peace.”
Jurors ordered Jones to pay eight families of Sandy Hook shooting victims and an FBI agent who was among the first responders $965 million over his lies that the 2012 massacre was a hoax. It’s the second substantial verdict against the Infowars host, with another trial still to go.
The compensatory damages were for both slander and emotional distress.
Monsignor Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima in Newtown, told Crux that while the verdict is important, it doesn’t negate what the families have gone through over the past decade.
“This is not a beautiful thing,” Weiss said. “It’s a matter of justice.”
“It’s a matter of clarifying that what this man was doing to this community was obscene, absolutely obscene, just ridiculous,” he continued. “What he put us through collectively needs to be brought to the forefront. It needs to be recognized as what it is and that’s a lie.”
Weiss, who has been pastor of St. Rose of Lima since 1999, was one of the first clergy members at the scene of the shooting where 26 people were killed – 20 first graders and six educators. Eight of the children who died in the shooting were St. Rose parishioners and Weiss presided over their funerals.
Weiss, too, was harassed by Jones and his followers. He said he was called a liar and an unfaithful priest, and received letters from Jones’ followers attacking his credibility. One of Jones’ “henchmen” also showed up to the parish school with four photographers, “picking out the redheaded students and saying, ‘See, I told you they’re hiding them here at the school,’” referring to the victims.
Jones’ claim was that the Sandy Hook shooting, the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, never happened, and that it was staged by actors as part of a government plot to build support for gun control. The comments led to years of torment for the grieving families.
The first defamation lawsuit verdict against Jones was in August, when a Texas jury awarded nearly $50 million to the parents of another slain child. The impending third trial, also in Texas, is a lawsuit filed by the parents of another child killed in the shooting.
Jones acknowledged during the trial that he was wrong about the Sandy Hook shooting, saying that it was “100 percent real.” He declined, though, to apologize in court on the grounds that he had apologized “hundreds of times” and was done doing so.
Jones did not attend the Oct. 12 court hearing in Waterbury, Connecticut, but he was streaming live when the jury’s decision was read in court. He called it a “joke.” Jones also said he doesn’t have the money. His attorney said he intends to appeal the decision.
Weiss said he’s very proud of the victims’ families for the “extraordinarily positive” things many of them have done, and continue to do to remember their children. St. Rose of Lima has held an annual memorial Mass that begins with the reading of the victim’s names.
This year, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the shooting on Dec. 14, the parish will unveil a new Sandy Hook memorial in the community. It will be dedicated at a private ceremony with the families on the morning of Nov. 12, and then will open to the public later that day.
Weiss said the memorial has been kept within the landscape of Newtown, and he thinks it will “bring a great deal of peace to a number of people.”
“You walk down a winding path with all natural flowers for this area and then you see this beautiful fountain with living water, just reminding us that there’s reason to go on, there’s reason to hope, while at the same time remember,” Weiss said. “I think it’s going to help a lot of people with the healing.”