An FBI agent struggled to control his emotions as he described seeing bodies inside Sandy Hook Elementary School — a scene that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones later claimed was staged by actors.
William Aldenberg was the first witness to testify as a Connecticut grand jury began hearing testimony in a trial to decide how much money Jones is owed for spreading the lie that the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown did not happen.
Mr. Aldenberg broke down as he described being among the first law enforcement officers to enter the two classrooms where 20 children died.
“Was what you saw in that school fake?” asked Christopher Mattei, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
“No,” said Mr. Aldenberg. “It’s terrible. It’s terrible.”
He also recounted how he and others in the community and law enforcement were targeted by threats and conspiracy theories, including one claiming he was an actor who also claimed to be the father of a victim.
“It’s one of the worst things that’s ever happened, if not the worst thing that’s ever happened here, what happened to them,” Mr Aldenberg said. “And people want to say it didn’t happen? And then they want to get rich from it? That’s the worst part.”
The trial in Waterbury, less than 20 miles from Newtown, where the children and six teachers were shot to death, was attended by more than a dozen family members of the victims, including David Wheeler, the father who conspiracy theorists claimed was the same person with Mr. Aldenberg.
Mr. Wheeler nodded as Mr. Aldenberg apologized for what he had to endure because of their resemblance.
The Sandy Hook families and Mr. Aldenberg say they have been confronted and harassed for years by people who believed Jones’ false claim that the shootings were staged by crisis actors as part of a conspiracy to take away people’s guns.
Some say aliens filmed them and their surviving children. They have also endured death threats and been subjected to abusive comments on social media.
Several families have moved from Newtown to avoid the harassment and accuse Jones of causing them emotional and psychological harm.
“You know, you can say whatever you want about me, I don’t care,” Mr. Aldenberg said. “Just say what you want. I’m frigging big boy. I can take it.
“But then they want to make profits, they want to make millions and millions of dollars. They want to destroy people’s lives. Their children were slaughtered. I saw it myself and now they have to sit here and hear me say it.”
This is the second such trial for Jones, who was ordered by a Texas jury last month to pay almost $50m (£43m) to the parents of one of the children killed. Jones was not in court Tuesday but is expected to appear next week.
A jury of three men and three women along with several alternatives will decide how much Jones must pay the relatives of the eight victims and Mr. Aldenberg. Judge Barbara Bellis found Jones liable without trial last year after he failed to turn over documents to the families’ lawyers.
The judge also sanctioned Jones on Tuesday for failing to submit analytics data about his website and the popularity of his show. She told his lawyers that because of that failure, they won’t be allowed to argue that he didn’t profit from his Sandy Hook words.
In opening statements, Jones was described by Mr. Mattei as a bully and by his lawyer as a maniac who should be ignored.
Mr. Mattei showed jurors data showing how Jones’ audience grew as he spread lies about the shooting. He also showed them photos and videos of things Jones had said and told the panel they already had the tools from their own life experiences to decide what to do in the case.
“What your parents taught you, what your grandparents taught you to know the difference between right and wrong, to know the difference between the truth and a terrible lie, to know the importance of standing up to bullies when they prey on people who are helpless . and taking advantage of them, and knowing if you don’t stop a bully, a bully will never be stopped,” he said.
“And when it comes to stopping Alex Jones, that’s going to be the most important thing you do.”
Jones’ attorney, Norm Pattis, argued that his client has espoused a variety of conspiracy theories over the years, which he is constitutionally entitled to do.
“At what point do we regard him as a maniac on the village green, a person we can walk away from if we choose?” he asked.
Mr Pattis told the jury that although Jones is liable for damages, any award should be minimal and claimed the families were overestimating the damage Jones caused.