WATERBURY, Conn. — The Alex Jones defamation trial into his Sandy Hook lies was condensed Thursday but remained full of emotion with more testimony from victims' families.
Matthew Soto, the brother of teacher Vicki Soto, and Donna Soto, their mother, both took the stand. Vicki was one of six educators killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.
"She did anything she could to get a smile from those kids," Matthew Soto said, as a photo of Vicki on "crazy hair day" was displayed on the TV.
“She loved being a teacher, she loved being with kids,” Donna Soto said of Vicki Soto.
In 2012, Vicki Soto had the opportunity to move her classroom closer to the front of the school. Her family helped her move all her items out of her old classroom to her new room. That was the same room she was killed in on December 14, 2012.
The president visited Sandy Hook after the shooting and said that Vicki Soto was a hero, which resonated with Matthew Soto. He posted about it on Facebook, thinking only a few dozen of his friends would see, but it spread farther than he anticipated, being shared over 900 times at the time.
“There were comments on that post saying I wasn’t real, saying that [Vicki] wasn’t real and that my family wasn’t real,” Matthew Soto said. “As a 15-year-old I had no idea how to process that or how to deal with that.”
The comments continued off of the screen after winter break.
“I remember going back to school - it was early January in 2013 - I was in the cafeteria and someone came up to me and said ‘Are you real? Is your family real? Did your sister really die?’ I remember not knowing how to respond; This wasn’t supposed to happen here,” Matthew Soto said. “I was supposed to be among peers.”
Mathew Soto ended up being homeschooled for part of high school due to being afraid that an encounter would happen again.
“I was diagnosed with PTSD,” he said.
Donna Soto said after the shooting, there were at least 4,000 people at Vicki’s wake. They hired security.
She found at least 25 fake Facebook profiles of Vicki online by January 2013.
“I remember being up at night reading these comments,” said Donna Soto. She said people questioned if were real or if they were actors.
“When you’re trying to grieve, this was such a public tragedy, we couldn’t grieve on our own,” said Donna Soto.
The Soto family sought help from a friend to report all the fake pages, but she says the anxiety took a toll on her children. Her two daughters had to take time off college due to their anxiety about people confronting them.
Even with those experiences in high school and even in college, Matthew Soto still returns to the classroom daily as an English teacher.
“It’s one of my biggest fears that my students will Google me and see these things and bring those questions into the classroom,” Matthew Soto said.
Robbie Parker, the father of 6-year-old Emilie Parker, who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, finished his testimony after starting Wednesday.
Parker got emotional on the stand, talking about how Alissa struggled to cope with the loss of their daughter and the lies that were being spread.
The Facebook memorial page for Emilie was shut down after being “inundated” with hate comments, Parker said. He said it was a lot to handle, even with eight people moderating the page.
“I felt like I couldn’t protect Emilie’s name or her memory anymore. So I had to get rid of it,” Parker said.
A year after the shooting, Parker and his wife, Alissa, along with their two other daughters, moved to Washington. He routinely checked online to see what new things were being said about the shooting. But even 4,000 miles of separation and a new home didn’t stop conspirators.
“We weren’t even halfway through the remodel of the new house. We see all these documents about the house, the sale of the house, the address and the person going through and following our steps,” said Parker. “Immediately, the sense of security I had was gone.”
Parker told the jury a story of being in Seattle with his family when someone came up to him and asked if he had a daughter who was killed. Parker said yes, in Sandy Hook.
He noted to the jury that people usually offer a hug and condolences. However, this encounter ended differently.
“I reached my hand out to shake his hand. And he looked down at my hand and he just stared at me,” Parker said.
The man ended up shouting expletives, asking Parker “How do you [expletive] sleep at night” and following Parker as he tried to walk away. It turned into a shouting match before Parker told him “I don’t owe you anything” and walked away, and the man went in the other direction.
“I already felt like I failed Emilie as a dad when she was alive because we sent her to school. And I especially started to feel like I was failing her in her death because of what people were saying about her and what they were saying about me trying to remember her,” Parker said.
Robbie has since counseled the families of the Parkland School shooting and started an art foundation to honor his daughter.
“I can fight this,” said Parker in court. “I can stand up and I don’t need to be quiet anymore.”
Plaintiff’s attorney Chris Mattei asked, “Robbie, is that why you’ve been looking forward to being here in this courtroom?”
Parker responded, “Exactly.”
A 2019 video deposition of David Jones, Alex Jones’ father, was played for the court.
David Jones had a career as a dentist before “indirectly” working for Free Speech Systems, the Infowars parent company, and was later employed “by the books”. David said he reported directly to his son, like many of his colleagues.
While working for Alex Jones, David Jones worked “to make sure we had a good environment for our employees.”
“Our business is a single talent business that is driven by one party,” David Jones said. “And I am endeavored to take care of some of the delegated duties not convenient to be done by the principal.”
Court ended early Thursday for counsel to address administrative issues. There is a day off Friday and the trial will continue on Tuesday.
Jones will likely testify next week. The judge also told the jury that next week will likely be the last week of evidence before they have to decide how much money in damages to award the families.
Jones was already found liable for damages after calling the Sandy Hook shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, a hoax on his InfoWars show.
A separate defamation trial over the summer ordered Jones to pay nearly $50 million to the Lewis family, who lost their son Jesse in the shooting.
In this Connecticut case, the families of eight victims and an FBI agent that responded to the shooting filed for damages against Jones, saying his claims saying Sandy Hook was stage had turned them into targets.
Pattis argues that any damages should be limited and accuses the victims' relatives of exaggerating the harm the lies caused them.
A third similar suit, out of Texas, is awaiting trial.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took away the lives of 20 students and six educators.
Leah Myers is a digital content producer at FOX61 News. She can be reached at email@example.com
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