Saturday, January 26, 2013

Myths, lies, and conspiracies about the Sandy Hook massacre

Often after a violent event that leads to a dramatic shift in public opinion or government policy, conspiracy theories abound. The Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, and the September 11 attacks all spawned numerous conspiracy theories. Now the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Ct. is becoming fodder for the purveyors of conspiracies.

Second shooters and the man in camouflage

One of the first conspiracies about Sandy Hook is that there was a second shooter. News coverage on the day of the murders showed a man in camouflage who had been arrested in the woods near the school. Bystanders reported that the man said, “I didn’t do it,” but no information on the man’s identity was forthcoming.

The mystery was quietly solved two weeks after the murders. On Dec. 27, the Newtown Bee reported, almost as an afterthought, that “a man with a gun who was spotted in the woods near the school on the day of the incident was an off-duty tactical squad police officer from another town.” The article does not explain what the officer was doing in the woods, but his identity was probably withheld because of his status as a SWAT officer. It is plausible to think that he might have been nearby and responded to the shootings. The Bee cites a “reliable law enforcement source.”

The SWAT officer was not the only person detained by police near Sandy Hook that day. Chris Manfredonia ran around the school trying to find his six-year-old daughter when he was handcuffed by police according to a Dec. 14 Los Angeles Times report. Manfredonia was released and found his daughter alive. Another unidentified man was detained according to Snopes, but was released when it became clear that he was not involved in the murders.

Chris Rodia was also accused of being the second shooter by some conspiracy theorists. In reality, the Connecticut Post reports that Rodia was being stopped for a traffic violation in Greenwich, Ct. at the time of the murders. Connecticut State Police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance told the Post that Adam Lanza was the only gunman and that the car belonged to his relative (Nancy Lanza, his mother, according to other reports), not to Rodia, whom Vance had never heard of. Apparently, the officer who stopped Rodia was using the same police frequency as units responding to Sandy Hook, causing bloggers monitoring scanners to become confused.

The Post tracked the Rodia conspiracy to several websites including one called “USA Hitman.” The administrator of the site admitted that “"I have a full-time job and don't have time to research the stories.”

Did Lanza use an assault rifle?
The weapon used by Lanza has also been the source of confusion. Paul Vance of the State Police confirmed to CNN that Lanza carried three guns in the attack. The primary weapon was a Bushmaster AR-15, but he also carried Glock 10 mm and Sig Sauer 9 mm pistols. The Newtown Bee’s law enforcement source confirms this information.

Early reports that the AR-15 was found in the trunk of Lanza’s (not Rodia’s) car were not correct. The weapon recovered from the trunk was actually a shotgun. CNN noted that authorities had not released details of the shotgun. A Youtube video shows police removing the gun, which does not appear to be an AR-15, from the trunk of the car.

There are reports that the gun in the trunk was a Saiga 12 gauge shotgun, but these could not be verified. The Saiga 12 gauge is a combat shotgun that can accept a large capacity magazine and could easily be mistaken for an “assault rifle.”

Ryan Lanza’s ID

Ryan Lanza’s role in the massacre has also been the source of confusion. Initial reports were that Ryan, Adam Lanza’s brother, was the killer. In reality, Ryan Lanza was at work in New York City when he heard about the shooting according to the Daily Mail. Lanza was picked up by police for questioning and was later released.

The confusion stems from the fact that Adam Lanza was reported to have carried Ryan’s identification. Precisely what sort of identification cannot be determined from the information that has been released. It is possible that the identification was old and out-of-date since the Lanza brothers did not live together.

Peter Lanza and LIBOR

There were also reports that Lanza’s father was scheduled to testify before Congress in the LIBOR scandal. The conspiracy theory claims that the father of James Holmes, the “Dark Knight” killer from Aurora, Co., was also scheduled to testify on LIBOR. The problem was that no such hearing was scheduled to take place according to Talking Points Memo. Holmes worked for FICO and Lanza worked for GE. Neither is connected to LIBOR scandal, which is not even an American scandal.

Victoria Soto

Another myth involves Victoria Soto, one of the teachers murdered by Lanza. Early reports indicated that Soto had hidden her students in a classroom closet and then told Lanza that they were not in the classroom. In reality, one of Soto’s students said that Soto lined her students up and put herself between them and Lanza. The student, Aidan Licata, told CNN that he had been taught to run if they saw someone with a gun. Aidan and several of the other students ran past Lanza and escaped. Aidan was picked up by a woman who took him to a police station, but some of the students from Miss Soto’s class ended up in Gene Rosen’s driveway.

The closet tactic was used by another first grade teacher, Kaitlin Roig, according to ABC News. Roig hid her class in a bathroom and wheeled a storage unit in front of the door. She piled some of her six- and seven-year-olds on top of the toilet to fit everyone inside while telling those “who believed in the power of the prayer, we need to pray and those who don't believe in prayer" to remain positive. When the police came, Roig refused to open the door, thinking that it might the murderer trying to trick her. She told them that if they were really the police they could find a key to open the door themselves. Roig and her students all survived.

Gene Rosen

Gene Rosen, who opened his home to several Sandy Hook survivors, has also been the target of the conspiracy buffs. Rosen’s home is slightly more than a tenth of mile from Sandy Hook, an easy walk for first graders. (Examiner is not publishing Rosen’s address to protect him from further harassment.) In spite of claims to the contrary, Connecticut’s News Times reported that Rosen did invite the bus driver who was with the six children into his home. The children eventually told Rosen what had happened. One of them even said that the killer had “a little gun and a big gun,” supporting the claim that Lanza carried the Bushmaster into the school. The original article does not specify whether the bus driver was male or female.

Much has been made of Rosen’s delay in contacting the police, but the News Times article indicates that he was initially somewhat skeptical about the children’s story. He did not realize that it was true until he watched the news that night.

It is not clear how much the bus driver knew about what had happened at the school. The driver may have even been in shock, since Rosen focuses mainly on the stories that the children told after they came inside. A Fox News report indicates that Rosen and the bus driver called the driver’s supervisor, who helped them to contact the children’s parents. It is reasonable to assume that the police would have been notified, either by Rosen or the supervisor, even though this is not specifically mentioned in the story. The bus driver’s name is apparently not mentioned in any news story. With the negative attention that Rosen has received, who can blame the driver for remaining anonymous?

According to the article, parents of four of the children were contacted and picked up their children at Rosen’s house and then the group went to the firehouse next door where other parents were gathering. Presumably, the other two children were either reunited with their parents or turned over to authorities there.

According to Snopes, Rosen was never a member of the Screen Actors Guild as some have claimed. This was a case of mistaken identity with another Eugene Rosen. The Eugene Rosen who lives near Sandy Hook has been a lifelong Connecticut resident. This is easily confirmed through online address searches and background checks.

Emilie Parker

Six-year-old Emilie Parker has also been the target of conspiracies thanks to a photo of President Obama surrounded by children. A girl in the picture bears a striking resemblance to Emilie and even wears the same dress that Emilie wore in a family portrait. The girl with the president is Emilie’s sister, Madeline, who is now four-years-old.

A collection of pictures posted on Metabunk helps clear up the confusion. The family portrait was taken in 2010 when Emilie was four and Madeline was two. Two years later, Madeline is at the same age that Emilie was in the family picture. She obviously wore a hand-me-down dress in the picture with the president.

Actors and smiling parents

Other conspiracies revolving around the massacre are more subjective. Conspiracy buffs claim that the parents interviewed on television are too happy to be grieving parents and that they are actually crisis actors employed by the government. There are many reasons that a parent might laugh after the death of child. There might be anxiety and nervousness about going on television, they might remember a happy moment with their baby, or they might even be in shock and not yet fully comprehending the loss.

An online conspiracy video states that Robbie Parker, Emilie’s father, is listed in an internet search as being 57-years-old. This is another obvious case of mistaken identity. An internet search performed by Examiner found no fewer than 12 Robert Parkers in Connecticut, including two in Sandy Hook. What the video fails to note is that the Robbie Parker interviewed on the news is the same man in the 2010 family portrait with Emilie and Madeline.

An Anderson Cooper podcast shows Veronique Pozner, another parent who is obviously distraught and says that she is still numb from the loss of her son. Lynn McDonnell, also cited on the conspiracy video with her words dubbed out, was on Anderson Cooper as well. A transcript of the interview shows that she was talking about her daughter’s sweet spirit, how she loved school, and how she would blow kisses as she got on the bus. These are memories that could easily make a grieving parent smile for a moment.

It is not reasonable to judge a parent to be an imposter based solely on their facial expression. People grieve in different ways. There likely were parents who fit the stereotype of grief in which they constantly cry and are totally inconsolable. It is reasonable to assume that these parents declined to do television interviews.

The claim that the parents are actors is easily debunked. Crisis Actors is a private business that provides actors for mock disaster drills. This is not a secret government organization. These are private citizens who work with government agencies to help them train for disasters, terrorist attacks and mass killings. The Crisis Actors website states, “We do not engage our actors in any real-world crisis events, and none of our performances may be presented at any time as a real-world event.”

Snopes believes that it has traced the origin of the actor conspiracy to Wellaware, another conspiracy site. This site apparently promotes the idea that many famous people have been replaced by actors. Among their theories are that Jerry Sandusky was replaced by Kevin Costner, that George Herbert Walker Bush was really Joseph Kennedy, Jr., that Queen Elizabeth is really Betty White, and that Kermit Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, portrayed both Adolf Hitler and Walt Disney.

The idea that actors are portraying the parents defies logic. If the parents on television are actors, then where are the real parents? If actors were being used, wouldn’t they be trained to portray stereotypical grief instead of laughing? If parents are not really grieving, where are the children? If the children and teachers were really killed in a “false flag” operation then why bother to hire actors? Wouldn’t the real parents be more convincing since they were really grief-stricken?

Ambulances, Lanza’s accuracy and controlling the crime scene

The conspiracy video also refers to news camera pictures showing the lack of activity around the school in the wake of the shooting. The answer here is simple: Most of the news crews arrived long after the action was over. The famous photo of a teacher leading a line of children was taken by the Newtown Bee, the local paper and apparently the first and only reporters on the scene for a time. The video says that there are “no ambulances” while simultaneously showing a video in which ambulances are clearly present. By the time video news crews reached the scene reached the scene, the children had already been removed from the school, to the fire station if they were uninjured or in ambulances if they were. NBC News reports that ambulances were even called in from neighboring towns, but most were unused. The majority of the victims were dead, not injured.

Adam Lanza’s accuracy has also been questioned due to reports that all victims had multiple wounds. The Hartford Courant reports that Lanza was a frequent player of first-person shooter video games and, according to MSNBC, he was familiar with guns and marksmanship. Children in the classrooms with one door had little room to escape. Many of the bullet wounds were probably inflicted after the victim was already dead or injured and unable to run.

Conspiracy buffs have keyed in on a comment about “controlling” the scene by Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Wayne Carver. A full transcript of Carver’s comments indicate that he was talking about controlling access to the crime scene to spare the families more emotional distress.

Carver’s full comment was, “We did not bring the bodies and the families into contact. We took pictures of them of their facial features. It’s easier on the families when you do that. There is a time and a place for up close and personal in the grieving process. But to accomplish this, we felt it would be best to do it this way, and you can sort of – you can control the situation, depending on the photographer and I have very good photographers.” This explains why the parents were kept from the crime scene and not allowed to see the bodies as well as why any closed circuit camera images have not been released.

Bridgeport FEMA conference

Conspiracy sites have also pointed out that FEMA was holding a conference in Bridgeport, Ct. on the day of the massacre. The topic of this sinister conference? “Planning for the needs of Children in Disasters.”

The location of the conference was not on the same road as Sandy Hook as some sites claim, although Highway 25 does connect both towns. According to Yahoo Maps, the two locations were 20 miles and about half an hour apart. It should be remembered that Connecticut is a small state with an average length of 90 miles and width of 55 miles. This means that the conference in Bridgeport was halfway across the state from Sandy Hook.

None of this is in the least incriminating or suggestive of FEMA involvement in the shooting. In fact, the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection calendar reveals that the same course was offered a total of four times in December. On the days of three of the four classes, no mass murders occurred.

Dates on internet postings

One of the last conspiracy items is the claim that news stories and Facebook pages about the murders were posted to the internet before the shootings actually occurred. This is based on dates posted on Google search results.

To see the fallacy in this theory, go to and type in a search term, something along the lines of “Sandy Hook shooting.” Click “search tools” in the menu below the search field. Click the arrow beside “any time” to open up a time range menu and then select “custom range.” Select a date range before the Sandy Hook shooting to search, for example, you can search the dates between January 1 and December 1, 2012. The results show news stories about the Sandy Hook massacre from as early as Jan. 14, 2012, far beyond the day or so early claimed by the conspiracy buffs. When dates are expanded, search results dating back to 2007 and 2008 can be found. This should be too early for even the most ardent conspiracy believers to justify as secret operation.

A similar search on Bing does not yield similar results. Bing does not offer custom date range searches, but after scrolling through many pages of search results, nothing prior to Dec. 14, 2012, the day of the shooting was found. The same is true of other search engines including Ask and Yahoo. Obviously, there is a flaw in Google’s methodology.

Without a doubt, President Obama and the Democrats are using the tragic murders at Sandy Hook for their own political ends. There is no evidence that they actually carried out the shootings or orchestrated a hoax of any sort. They didn’t need to. Mass murders happen on occasion and this one, happening just after the election, came at an opportune time.

A hoax would have been much smoother. They would have hired actors who knew how to cry. They might have set up websites in advance, but they would not have activated them, much less more than one, before the shooting. Eyewitness testimony would have matched. In reality, conflicting testimony is not a sign of a hoax because people perceive things in different ways and remember things differently. Stories that match up perfectly are more likely to indicate that the testimony was planned in advance.

For Sandy Hook to be a hoax perpetrated by the government, the conspirators would have to be exceedingly incompetent. They would have had to execute the killings and plant Adam Lanza as a patsy, but forget to plant the AR-15 on his body. They would also have to inexplicably put one of the “dead” girls in a photo opportunity with the president and launch websites several days early. Actors portraying the parents would have to all be so incompetent as to forget their roles on camera.

In any unfolding news story, there is a lot of erroneous information at the beginning. The “fog of war,” conflicting information coming in from different sources and all presented as fact, means that some of the early information is not true. The news media are not intentionally lying; they are just reporting the story as they know it at the time. When this information is corrected later, it isn’t a hoax or a cover up; they are just setting the record straight.

As with any conspiracy theory, the best solution is to apply Hanlon’s razor to conspiracy claims about Adam Lanza and the mass murder at Sandy Hook. “Never accept for malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Originally published on Examiner:

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