Transcript

771: The Parents Step In

Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Prologue: Prologue

Ira Glass

It's This American Life from WBEZ Chicago. I'm Ira Glass.

So there's a whole infrastructure that springs into action when a mass shooting happens. There's the police and SWAT teams, of course, and the Red Cross, the Billy Graham prayer truck, therapy dogs. And there's this couple who shows up, this couple whose daughter died in a mass shooting. And they come, and what they do seems to be very effective.

I don't need to tell you that our government has utterly failed at any kind of response to stop school shootings and mass shootings. In the wake of that, that nothingness, that non-response, parents of children who've died have stepped in in various ways.

Today, on our show, we have two stories for you about parents like these. In the second half hour of our show, we have a dad from Sandy Hook, who jumped into action after his son was killed, just took extraordinary measures, and got results.

But we're going to begin with this story about that couple, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips. They're out in Uvalde, Texas this week. They headed there straight from Buffalo, where, of course, 10 people were killed earlier this month in a grocery store. Their daughter, Jessi, died back in 2012 when a gunman opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. And since then, they've organized their lives to be able to reach out to other parents like themselves.

We did this story back in 2018, right after a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. But really, nothing has changed since we first heard this. I was re-listening to this story this week, and one thing that really hit me is how deeply it takes you into the place that-- I don't know, speaking for myself, I find myself thinking about all the time right now, which is what the parents and families in Uvalde, Texas are going through.

One of our producers, Miki Meek, put this together and spent time with Phillipses.

Act One: Keep Breathing

Miki Meek

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips have traveled to eight mass shootings since Aurora. It started with Sandy Hook, then Isla Vista, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, and then Santa Fe, Texas, which is where I met up with them in May, right after a student walked into the high school and killed 10 people. They pulled up in front of the school in their truck. Even though they've done this a lot, Sandy told me the discomfort and awkwardness they feel about showing up like this in a community has never gone away.

Lonnie Phillips

Are you ready for this?

Miki Meek

But in Santa Fe, they just launched themselves in anyway. They're each wearing a big button with a photo of their daughter, Jessi, smiling. A memorial had just gone up on a big grassy lawn out front. There were 10 wood crosses, each with a red heart and a photo of the student or teacher who'd been killed. People were starting to leave teddy bears, flowers, and balloons.

What the Phillips do here is just talk to whoever wants to talk. They figure that'll lead them to families they might be useful to. And within seconds of getting out of their truck, they bump into a dazed teenage girl, wearing shorts and a Santa Fe High School soccer T-shirt.

Sandy Phillips

Excuse me, how are you doing?

Girl

I'm not OK.

Miki Meek

And here, the sound gets muffled because Sandy's tiny mic gets crushed when they hug. It's the main sound I remember from that day.

[INAUDIBLE]

Sandy Phillips

We're just so sorry this has happened to you, and your friends, and your families, and your community.

Girl

Thank you so much.

Miki Meek

Another girl, a junior with light brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, walks up to them and stares at their buttons

Sandy Phillips

We lost our daughter in a mass shooting six years ago.

Girl

Is that her?

Sandy Phillips

Mm-hmm.

Girl

She's pretty.

Sandy Phillips

Thank you. She is. Inside and out, she was lovely, just like your friends.

Miki Meek

Sandy is good at making people feel comfortable. She has a round, warm face, framed by a gray bob. She's maternal and keeps her comments caring and brief.

Lonnie stands right next to Sandy with his arm around her. Sandy's the one who mostly talks to the kids, but he's always by her side, listening intently. His presence helps her do this. He looks out for her, sometimes running ahead to start the AC in their truck before she climbs in.

Sandy Phillips

Hi.

Tracy

My name's Tracy.

Sandy Phillips

Hi, Tracy.

Miki Meek

I was surprised at how quickly people opened up to the Phillipses.

Sandy Phillips

Jessi.

Tracy

Jessi. Beautiful--

Miki Meek

The girl who said "Jessi" was pretty. She started telling them that she escaped the shooting by hiding behind a building with other students. Now she just wanted to stay at home.

But at home, all she could think about was the shooting. Scenes from that day kept re-playing through her head. Sandy doesn't miss a beat here.

Sandy Phillips

Over at the victims' assistance, they have trauma therapists over there. I recommend strongly that any of you kids really think about stopping by the victims' assistance--

Girl

I will.

--and do some trauma therapy. OK, honey.

Girl

Thank you so much.

Sandy Phillips

You're welcome. You're welcome.

Miki Meek

The Phillipses don't make money off this. They're volunteers. And they're not wealthy either. They're retirees living in a 245-square-foot trailer, surviving off of modest savings and Social Security. Sandy is 68 and used to work in tourism for the city of San Antonio. And Lonnie is 74. He used to own some car lots.

[INAUDIBLE]

Sandy Phillips

Please do. Let them know that we-- [INAUDIBLE]

So have you guys met?

Girl

Yes.

Miki Meek

One thing I quickly realize going to Santa Fe is that there are now so many of these mass shootings that they become grim reunions for all the people who show up to them as part of their jobs or volunteer work.

Sandy Phillips

Are you from Las Vegas?

Miki Meek

Sandy and Lonnie ran into an emergency responder from the Las Vegas shooting, and then bumped into this other guy who travels around, putting up all those white crosses you see at almost every mass shooting. He made one for their daughter, Jessi, in Aurora too. Standing on the patchy brown grass next to the crosses, Lonnie interrupted him to do this thing he and Sandy do a lot.

Lonnie Phillips

Sign-- 1:11.

Miki Meek

They suddenly call out the time.

Lonnie Phillips

We have a 1:11 and 11:11, and we're talking to you at 1:11, so it's a sign from our daughter.

Miki Meek

11:11 is a thing. A lot of people see it as an auspicious sign, or a time to make a wish. And it was a lyric in one of Jessi's favorite songs.

Lonnie Phillips

So if we get 11:11 twice a day, we know we really had a good day.

Miki Meek

They told me, I know it's silly, but I take it as a hello or a God wink. It helps.

Lonnie Phillips

[INAUDIBLE] --

Sandy Phillips

Hello.

Lonnie Phillips

--expect a double whammy in Denver.

Sandy Phillips

What's your name?

Cindy Evans

Cindy Evans.

Sandy Phillips

Cindy? Cindy?

Cindy Evans

My son was in the high school here.

Sandy Phillips

Oh, I'm so sorry.

Miki Meek

As the day went on, people kept dropping by the memorial in front of the high school. Parents and students stood huddled together, staring at the crosses or writing messages on them. It was quiet, and hot, and still. There was a low generator hum from the gigantic Billy Graham ministry truck set up in the parking lot. And then, all of a sudden, this young guy started wailing. Sandy made a beeline for him.

Young Man

It's too much, man. It's too dang much. I'm sorry--

Miki Meek

He immediately threw his arms around her.

Young Man

[INAUDIBLE] why this thing keeps happening.

Sandy Phillips

Oh, here, here, here, here, here. Put your arms around me.

Young Man

[SOBBING]

Sandy Phillips

It's OK. It's OK-- it's not OK, it's not OK. Let it go, let it go, let it go, let it go, let it go. Just cry your heart out. Cry your heart out and get your anger out. I'm here. I'm here. I'm here.

Young Man

[SOBBING]

Sandy Phillips

I'm so sorry. Oh, god, I'm so sorry.

Young Man

It makes me wish I could have done something.

Sandy Phillips

OK. Yeah, it's OK, honey. You're doing it now. OK?

Miki Meek

He graduated last year. There were crosses set up for three people he knew well. One of them was a teacher named Ms. Perkins, who he really loved. He said she always tried to be strict with him, but could never keep up that front for very long.

Sandy Phillips

Just breathe. Take a nice, deep breath.

Young Man

[SOBBING]

Sandy Phillips

Take a nice, deep breath.

Young Man

[SOB]

Sandy Phillips

OK. OK. Breathe with me.

Young Man

Thank you.

Sandy Phillips

There you go.

Miki Meek

After a few minutes, he's caught his breath enough to talk. He tells Sandy he wants the shootings to stop. He wants to take action somehow. And then he suddenly switches gears and starts spilling out his feelings about guns and gun control.

Young Man

Nowadays, with the violence that is going on in this world, taking guns away is not going to change that. Because it's just like drugs. They make drugs illegal, and people are still able to get drugs.

Miki Meek

He plans to get a concealed handgun license when he turns 21 later this year.

The Phillips are actually gun owners too. They have a 12-gauge shotgun. They believe in the Second Amendment. But they're also advocates for universal background checks, and tight regulations on the types of guns, ammunition, and accessories-- like bump stocks-- a person can buy. However, Sandy says they don't push their political beliefs on survivors when they're doing outreach. Their primary goal is to support.

But it's impossible for grieving parents to avoid the politics around guns. There's a whole movement of conspiracy theorists who believe that the US government stages mass shootings to make guns look bad.

Sandy Phillips

We were told by Alex Jones that our daughter never existed.

Miki Meek

Alex Jones, of course, is famous for saying that mass shootings are fake. He's now a defendant in several defamation lawsuits. When the Phillips ran into him face-to-face at a gun control event, he accused them of inventing their entire story.

Sandy Phillips

And then two minutes later, he's saying, your daughter's still alive, and she's living in the Bahamas, and she's living the high life, and you're crisis actors, and you're paid by the Obama administration, and da, da, da. And I'm listening to him, just going, you are so absolutely crazy.

Miki Meek

Lonnie got into it with Jones, stood right in front of him. It looked like a shoving match was about to start, until Sandy stepped in and broke it up. I reached out to Jones through one of his lawyers, who declined to comment. The conspiracy theorists, known as truthers or hoaxers, troll families of victims on social media immediately after any mass shooting.

This can get dangerous. After the Phillips' son gave interviews in Aurora, he got death threats and had to get the FBI involved. The man who was threatening him ended up in jail. So hoaxers are one of the things the Phillips warn parents about. They tell families to brace themselves.

After watching Lonnie and Sandy in Santa Fe, I wondered why in the world they were throwing themselves back into this setting, reliving their worst moment over and over again. The answer, of course, starts with their daughter's shooting. They got the news in the middle of the night when they were asleep at their home in Texas.

This was back in 2012, and their daughter Jessi was in college at the time. She got to see the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, with one of her friends at a multiplex in Aurora, Colorado. About a half hour after the movie started, Jessi's friend called Sandy from the theater.

Sandy Phillips

The minute I picked up the phone there was [SIGHS] screaming-- just [SIGHS] horrible screaming in the background, and panic. And he said, there's been a shooting. And I was like, what is he talking about? Because Jessi had been at a mall in Toronto almost seven weeks before where there was a mass shooting.

Miki Meek

This was a coincidence. Jessi had left a food court in a mall just three minutes before a man walked in and opened fire.

Sandy Phillips

So my first thought was, this isn't funny, you know. But he's not a prankster. And I said, are you OK? And he said, I think I've been hit twice.

And it was when he said that that I went, why isn't Jessi calling? And I knew something was really wrong. He said, I tried.

Lonnie Phillips

And that's when I woke up, because the scream was so loud. It was so horrific and something I never heard before.

Miki Meek

Lonnie found Sandy in the living room, sliding down a wall. He picked her up and took her to their couch, where he held her. Jessi was one of 12 people killed that night. Another 70 people were injured.

And then, five months later, there was another mass shooting, Sandy Hook, where 20 first graders and six educators died.

Days later, the Brady Campaign to prevent gun violence contacted the Phillipses. They were reaching out to families from other mass shootings, and asked if they'd be willing to travel to Newtown to talk to parents there. Sandy said they didn't even have to think about it. They immediately said, yes, because they wished they'd had someone to talk to right after Jessi died.

But when they arrived at a community center in Newtown, Sandy says they felt nervous and uncomfortable. Maybe they were intruding. They weren't sure if these parents would feel angry or grateful about their presence.

Sandy Phillips

You know, it's like walking into a funeral of people that you don't know. And I remember saying to my husband when we walked in the room, and I saw their faces, and I said, that's what we looked like five months ago.

Miki Meek

And what does that look like?

Sandy Phillips

Pff. They're hanging on to each other. And they've been crying, so their eyes are red. They're walking almost robot-like. Their bodies are moving, but they're not really there.

I realized that's what I looked like just five months ago. But it also made me realize this is exactly what I want to be doing.

Miki Meek

She wanted to help these parents acclimate to their new reality. Looking back, Sandy says it was probably too soon for them to be out there trying to comfort other parents when they were still so raw. But the Phillipses said there was also a strong and instant sense of kinship that they couldn't turn away from.

While they were there, they ran into parents from other mass shootings too, parents from Virginia Tech and Tucson. These parents had lost kids suddenly and violently in places where they thought that they were safe. The Phillipses now had parents that they could lean on too.

This was the moment that launched the Phillipses into what's become their life's work. They could see the need. There are no experts on what to do when your child dies in a mass shooting. The only experts are the people it's happened to.

So to help them find each other, Lonnie and Sandy have set up an organization, called Survivors Empowered. They help families navigate their grief, plus a bunch of other practical things, everything from medical bills, and charity scams that use kids photos to raise money, to how to get your child's body home if you live out of state. However, this new mission was hard for their family and friends to comprehend.

Lonnie Phillips

They want you to move on with your life. They want you to get back to normal. My own brother said to me, he said, you're not the same as you were.

I said, you know, let me explain something to you. You're right, I'm not the same person. I never will be. They see it as we're obsessed with this. Well, you know, we are, in a sense. We are obsessed with it.

Miki Meek

The Phillipses and a few other parents told me because it's so hard for people to understand that the grief never fades, old relationships start to fall away. People you were closest to disappear, which makes this informal support group even more crucial.

What that support looks like over time, and what it means to the parents who get it, I got to see all that when Sandy and Lonnie got to know a couple from Florida who lost their son in the shooting at Parkland-- Annika and Mitch Dworet. I met them at their house.

Their son's name was Nick. He was the captain of Parkland swim team and was about to go to the University of Indianapolis on a swim scholarship. He was a 6-foot-tall blond kid who collected different flavors of Oreos and waited for supreme drops. Mitch said they'd just reached a point where they were becoming real friends. They talked about relationships, shared playlists, and watched Scarface together.

The day of the shooting, Mitch and Annika got phone calls and texts all day from people who said they'd heard Nick was OK. One person said they heard he'd been moved to a staging area for all the students who witnessed the shooting. Another said a police officer was giving him a ride home. And then a nurse at a local hospital said she saw a patient who matched Nick's description.

But by that evening, the Dworets still hadn't heard directly from Nick. So they went to a Marriott that law enforcement designated as a meeting area. They sat in a ballroom with other parents and waited.

Annika Dworet

Every time the phone rings, you'd jump and think it's Nick calling from somebody else's phone. The media was calling you, do you have any comments? Can we help you find your son? And I was just like--

Mitch Dworet

[INAUDIBLE]

Annika Dworet

Yeah. And at 2 o'clock in the morning, we see this FBI car. And then they start pulling one family into rooms at a time. And you hear screams from these rooms.

Miki Meek

Then their names were called out.

Annika Dworet

Even walking into that room, you have this tiny little hope that they're going to say, like, we couldn't even find your son, you know. And that hope of that he was somewhere else. And I keep on thinking, maybe he walked home. And then you do the math in your head, like, it doesn't take that long to walk to our house.

And then they told us the news, that he was gone. He was shot and he was never brought to the hospital at all. It was just like a nightmare. Just like a nightmare.

Miki Meek

Nick's body was still at the school because he died instantly and the building was still a crime scene. It'd be two days before they could see him. Annika wanted to look at his injuries. Mitch did not.

Annika says this is just how her brain works. She's an ER nurse. She needs details. The director at the funeral home, wanting to protect her, called the medical examiner's office to ask about Nick.

Annika Dworet

And the person that answered the phone said, oh, let me-- let me take a look. What's the name again? It's Nicholas Dworet. He's the swimmer. Oh, the swimmer is perfect.

Miki Meek

What does that mean?

Annika Dworet

I think it meant that there was nothing on his face or his head. Like he was-- he was perfect.

Miki Meek

He'd been shot three times. A bullet in his chest destroyed his heart and lungs.

Miki Meek

Was it helpful for you to see him?

Annika Dworet

Yes, it was helpful. Because your picture in your head when you hear-- when you hear that somebody has been shot with an AR-15, just so gruesome, so horrible, horrible. And I think to see him, and to see on his body where his injuries were, made me get it. Like, he was so peaceful, and he was not in pain. And it made me have a better image of him than the one that was playing over in my mind.

The Phillipses had traveled to Parkland a couple of days after the shooting. They didn't know the Dworets, but a mutual friend thought they should talk. And so this friend, with Mitch's permission, gave Sandy his phone number. Sandy called and got no answer. So she left a voicemail.

Sandy Phillips

I'm very sorry for your loss. I understand your loss. We lost our daughter. And you can call me any time.

Miki Meek

She let him know that she and Lonnie would be in Parkland for a few more days. Mitch called back quickly. He did want to meet with them in person, thought it'd be helpful to talk to another family who'd been through a mass shooting. But he told Sandy the timing wasn't going to work. His house was packed with family in town for Nick's funeral.

Sandy Phillips

And I'm on the phone with him, and ironically, I'm standing right in front of his child's cross. And I said, you're not going to believe this.

Mitch Dworet

She said that she was standing right in front of Nick's memorial. I get chills right now.

Sandy Phillips

And we proceeded to have a talk. And he said, I don't think we're ready to meet with you. And I said, I totally understand. I'm just glad that we're getting to talk.

But you do need to know that truthers are already online saying that this didn't happen. He said, what are truthers? And I said, ugh, OK.

Mitch Dworet

I thought, like, wow, are you kidding me? Crazy.

Miki Meek

Mitch asked her to stop by their house the following day. While Mitch was on board with the Phillipses, Annika had a different take on total strangers stopping by their house.

Annika Dworet

I was more-- maybe more skeptical, like, nervous of why are they here, what's their agenda. How can people come and meet with us if they don't want something from us?

Miki Meek

Their house was so crowded that the only private place to talk was their bedroom. Annika and Mitch sat on the bed, Lonnie and Sandy in chairs. Annika remembers feeling a little uncomfortable and thinking to herself--

Annika Dworet

Why am I sitting here? Why I'm not with the family? Who are these people? I don't know them. But I guess it might help.

But it was very overwhelming. Like, I can't believe that I have to sit and have this conversation. What is this? This is my life now?

Miki Meek

Was there a point in the conversation where it started to turn for you?

Annika Dworet

Yeah, I think-- I think when they said, don't join our organization now. Don't fight now. Just take care of yourself and let yourself grieve.

Miki Meek

They asked questions about Nick. And before long, they were just talking.

Lonnie remembers Mitch asking if they were religious and if they ever got signs from Jessi. He told Mitch that, like them, they weren't, but they took 11:11 as a hello from Jessi. The conversation went on for three hours.

Annika Dworet

You know, all our friends and family, as much as they did for us and how much love they showed, none of them could have any clue what we were feeling. And here were two people knowing exactly what we were feeling.

Mitch Dworet

They also made me feel a little more confident. I don't know if that's the right word. You're in a club we all don't want to be in. We didn't want to meet you. We wish we would have met under different circumstances. But you have people who will help you with this kind of grief.

Miki Meek

And a few days later, when the online conspiracies started appearing about Nick, that he didn't exist, or that he was living in California, they remembered Sandy's warning. It was still upsetting, but less upsetting because they knew it was coming.

They've helped in other ways too. The Dworets took the Phillipses' advice and got into trauma therapy right away, both individually and as a family.

Their younger son, Alex, has been through a lot. Nick was his best friend. One of the last things Nick did on the day of the shooting was walk Alex to his English class. Alex was injured in the shooting and sat by a kid who died right in front of him. Annika says managing her grief, along with her son's, has been tough.

Annika Dworet

There was so much attention on Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick. Everybody came for Nick. The flowers were for Nick, the letters were for Nick. I felt like, you know, I-- if this didn't happen to Nicholas, and only this, I could have been there for Alex so much stronger and so much more. So I was afraid that he would get neglected and all that.

Sandy Phillips

I think sometimes children feel like, well, you must have loved that child more than you love me.

Miki Meek

Sandy's son was 25 when his sister died. Sandy tried to talk to him about it, which ended up pushing him farther away. When she talks to parents, she talks about her own mistakes too.

Eight months after they first met, Mitch is still in touch with Sandy. They text or call each other every couple weeks. Mitch relies on Sandy more than Annika, who, unlike him, already has a built-in network of friends she talks to all the time.

Mitch Dworet

And we texted-- I think we texted yesterday. It was 11:11, actually. We texted yesterday.

And I feel like she's still in it. She's still with us. She's-- it's someone who we can lean on and give us support. And I, in turn, wanted her to lean on me. Maybe, you know, seeing us get stronger, it gives her energy too.

Miki Meek

He's right about that. Sandy spends almost every day at her tiny kitchen table in their trailer fielding texts and phone calls from survivors, and messaging with people on social media who ask for help.

Sandy Phillips

And the pain is always there at the end of the day and when you go to bed at night. And when you first wake up in the morning it's there. But you have a sense of purpose, and that-- that helps.

Miki Meek

A little bit of a lifeline or something?

Sandy Phillips

Oh, it's a total lifeline-- total. If I didn't have this work, I don't think I'd be alive. I really don't.

And I say that to Lonnie all the time. And he goes, but, you know, don't you love me enough, kind of thing, to stay alive? I just don't think I would have had the ability to keep going.

Miki Meek

Mitch and Annika told me that when they're feeling stronger, they'd like to do for other families with the Phillipses have done for them. They said, god forbid another shooting happens. But if it does, we'll be out there with them.

Ira Glass

Miki Meek is one of the producers of our show.

Coming up, a parent tries to combat an infuriating and very personal piece of misinformation online that just will not go away, and does some things that parents almost never do. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two: Down the Rabbit Hole

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, the parents step in.

So with the government doing-- I don't know-- is it nothing?; is it next to nothing?-- to reduce the number of mass shootings in this country, we have stories today of parents taking action, specifically parents of children who were killed in mass shootings. And in the stories we have in today's show, these parents, they get results.

The dad in this next act is somebody who Lonnie and Sandy introduced producer Miki Meek to. His name is Lenny Pozner. This is Act Two of our show, "Down the Rabbit Hole."

And when Lenny Pozner wants to explain to people what his life is like, he sometimes tells this story. On election night back in 2016, he says he went to a bar, got a seat near a television, ordered a beer, and you know, started making small talk.

Lenny Pozner

And I had turned to the guy to my right, and I said, did you vote? And from there, he went into a long explanation about just some shadow government ideas, and whether voting makes a difference. And probably 10 minutes into it he was talking about mass shootings, and then eventually Sandy Hook.

Ira Glass

Sandy Hook, of course, where a gunman killed 20 children, all in first grade, as well as seven adults.

This random stranger then started telling Lenny this particular story about Sandy Hook. He thought the whole shooting was fake. It had to be fake, he said, because one of those first graders also showed up as a victim in a second mass shooting, all the way over in Pakistan. In the corners of the internet, where people trade Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, this is a key piece of evidence that Sandy Hook wasn't real.

Of course, it was real. And what happened in Pakistan was, in reality, about two years after Sandy Hook, the Taliban gunned down more than 100 kids there. And there was a public vigil. And at the public vigil, probably as a sign of solidarity with other kids who had died in school shootings, mourners had this photo of a boy from Sandy Hook, smiling and wearing a Spider-Man shirt under a corduroy jacket with a furry collar. Sandy Hook deniers saw that in the coverage, and they pounced. Did he die twice? Did he die at all?

So the guy at the bar with Lenny is rattling through all this Pakistan stuff. And then, as Lenny explained to Miki Meek, who he told this story to, the guy mentions the kid's name-- Noah Pozner.

Lenny Pozner

I didn't really need to hear much more than that. I just needed to shut him down, basically.

Miki Meek

So what did you do?

Lenny Pozner

I took out my driver's license. And I said, look who you're talking to. Show some respect.

Ira Glass

The boy in the photo was Lenny's son, Noah, who was six when he died.

Miki Meek

Does he connect it, or--?

Lenny Pozner

Well, sure, he connected it instantly, yeah. And he just became more agitated, very angered, and went outside and maybe had a cigarette. Came back, yelled at me some more. Oh, my god, how much did they pay you? How can you do this? He was committed to his belief. I was the villain.

Ira Glass

People like this man at the bar pretty much redefined everything about the way Lenny lives his life-- where he lives, how he lives. He runs into these hoaxers in person and pretty much every day online. They think the government has paid him millions to play the part of a grieving dad. In their minds, Lenny is the sick one. Noah was never even his kid.

And the person who has popularized these theories more than anybody is Alex Jones, who runs the website Infowars, and who pushed these theories with his radio show and his YouTube videos.

Alex Jones made his name right after 9/11, promoting the idea that 9/11 was an attack orchestrated by our own government. With Sandy Hook, Jones said many times that he did not believe the shooting was real.

Alex Jones

Sandy Hook is a synthetic, completely fake, with actors, in my view, manufactured. I couldn't believe it at first. I knew they had actors there, clearly. But I thought they killed some real kids. And it just shows how bold they are that they clearly used actors.

Ira Glass

He's claimed that the government, or some shadowy global forces, are the ones who hired these actors. He and the other hoaxers call them crisis actors. It's like this whole alternate world that exists right next to the real one. It makes life miserable for parents like Lenny.

But unlike most parents in that situation, Lenny decided to go all action hero on the hoaxers and an Alex Jones. Action hero, I will do what needs to get done to defend my family-- damn the consequences. Lenny is resourceful. He is dogged. He does not give up. In this world that we live in of hoaxers and trolls, he's marked out a path that I think very few of us would want to take.

Miki Meek, who did the story on Sandy and Lonnie also put together this story about the transformation of Lenny Pozner. We first broadcast this back in 2019. There are some curse words in the story that we have un-beeped for this podcast version of the show. If you prefer a beeped version, go to our website. Here's Miki.

Miki Meek

The first time Lenny became aware of any conspiracy theories about Sandy Hook was about a month after the shooting. He'd been on a media blackout, trying to get through Noah's funeral, and taking care of his two young girls. They were also at the elementary school that morning. And one of them was Noah's twin sister. She hid in a separate classroom.

But one day, Lenny finally felt ready to go online, read the news, googled his son's name.

Lenny Pozner

Infowars was coming up on search results, the forums.

Miki Meek

The forums were.

Lenny Pozner

Yeah, and it's just completely disgusting.

Miki Meek

In just over 30 days, this whole world had been invented. And one of the central pieces of it involved Lenny's wife. Infowars fans were dissecting this one interview she did on CNN. It was with Anderson Cooper, just days after Noah's funeral.

Anderson Cooper

What do you want people to know about Noah?

Veronique De La Rosa

He loved running and playing with his siblings. And he loved bubble baths and fireflies. And he loved eating the inside of Oreo cookies. And he played the video "Gangnam Style" ad nauseam.

Anderson Cooper

I understand he used to tell his siblings that he-- that he managed a taco factory.

Veronique De La Rosa

Yes, he was going to split his time as an adult between managing a taco factory and being an astronaut.

Miki Meek

The comments online were gross and flimsy. Why didn't she sound sadder? Why would she put on lipstick if she was really grieving? And wasn't she too old to be the mom of a six-year-old kid? They were convinced that something was up.

Anderson Cooper

How are you holding up? I mean--

Veronique De La Rosa

Most of the time, I'm kind of numb. I think every mom out there can relate to the fact of how long it takes to create a baby, those nine months, that you watch every ultrasound and every heartbeat. And it takes nine months to create a human being, and it takes seconds for an AR-15 to take that away from the surface of this earth.

Miki Meek

This reference to guns was another aha moment for conspiracy theorists. Some of them started digging into Veronique's life, looked up her maiden name, and then said, hey, look at this. There's a Swiss diplomat who has her exact same name. And even fishier, this diplomat once went to an arms control summit at the United Nations.

So maybe they're the same person. Maybe she's one of those elite globalists, trying to make guns look bad so President Obama can repeal the Second Amendment. Suddenly, every real sentiment Veronique shared about Noah was getting reinterpreted as lines from a sinister script.

Veronique De La Rosa

They were here and they mattered. They all had families. And they matter.

Miki Meek

And the kicker that cinched it for these conspiracy theorists-- Anderson Cooper's nose. There's this moment when the tip of his nose disappears because of a digital glitch in the video, what CNN says was normal interference that happens with a live satellite feed. It's just a couple seconds, but hoaxers wouldn't let it go.

Lenny Pozner

And they said that it's a green screen, or a blue screen, or whatever. So that was a fake interview, and Veronique was a participant of a fake, staged CNN interview. That conspiracy theory was all over YouTube, and it was all over YouTube with Noah's image.

Miki Meek

I've talked to parents who've lost kids in other mass shootings, and they've all been blindsided by online harassment from conspiracy theorists. The crisis actor claim is so common now, these attacks usually start almost immediately after victims are IDed in the media. And parents who go on TV and talk about gun control, like Veronique, they get it the worst.

Sandy Hook is when this really took off. Families get stuck fending off all this crazy hate by themselves. There just aren't that many resources for them, because law enforcement still hasn't figured out how to deal with most cyber harassment. And the tech companies aren't much help.

So most families just try to ignore the conspiracy theorists and hope they'll eventually go away. And that's what Lenny did for a while. His life was a wreck.

But after about a year and a half, they were still at it. And he couldn't let it go anymore.

Lenny Pozner

And I realized that grieving requires a calmness and a silence. And all of this material was a distraction for me, and it was noise. And I needed to handle that noise so that I could have the silence and calm that I needed.

Miki Meek

There's this photo I love of Lenny, with his arm wrapped around Noah. He's got a walrus mustache and he's kneeling on a trampoline with a soft smile. It's spring. And Noah has all this big brown hair, fat cheeks. He's snuggling his whole body into Lenny's chest.

Lenny's got tons of family photos like these. He posted them in an online memorial he made for Noah right after he died.

But Sandy Hook deniers downloaded them and repurposed them into cruel memes, wrote "fake" across Noah's face. Took a picture of his headstone and photoshopped under his name, "Is not buried here." Photos of his daughters were circulating too.

He couldn't just leave them out there on the web with the trolls. Lenny got consumed with thinking about how to take control of the situation, how to extract Noah and his family from all this.

The internet didn't scare him. It was actually his comfort zone. He ran his own IT business. He was not the kind of guy who sat around and complained about how something didn't work. He was a guy who fixed stuff.

Lenny Pozner

So you need to find what the problem is, and then find you know what your solution is, and then start getting closer to that solution step by step. Otherwise, the problem is overwhelming, and then you just want someone else to fix it for you. You have to track down where you can make a difference and get closer to being less broken.

Miki Meek

There was one other thing that made Lenny especially qualified to deal with the conspiracy theorists. He used to enjoy those theories himself, the classic fun ones-- Bigfoot, Loch Ness, Area 51, NASA faking the moon landing.

Miki Meek

Like, what's the fun of it?

Lenny Pozner

It's suspending your disbelief. It's like sitting down and watching a science fiction movie and then looking at the "what if?" And it's just fun-- especially if there's no price to pay in your life, and there's no cost to that way of thinking. Then it's just a game.

Miki Meek

Sometimes he even listened to Alex Jones in his car. And in fact, just a month after the shootings, when Lenny first saw those things on Alex Jones's website, he tried to reach out. He found a general Infowars email address and shot him off this message.

"Alex, I'm very disappointed to see how many people are directing more anger at families that lost their children in Newtown, accusing us of being actors. Haven't we had our share of pain and suffering? I used to enjoy listening to your shows. Now I feel that your type of show created these hateful people, and they need to be reeled in!" Exclamation point. About an hour later, he heard back from Jones's staff.

Lenny Pozner

And they responded with, "We have not supported the crisis actor claim. We insist that it's a true event." And on and on.

Miki Meek

This wasn't true. Jones did spread the crisis actor theory. It was on his website at the time. And he started talking about it-- a lot. That CNN interview with Veronique, he talked about it all the time.

Alex Jones

Folks, we've got video of Anderson Cooper with clear blue screen out there. He's not there in the town square. We've got people clearly coming up and laughing and then doing the fake crying. We've clearly got people where it's actors playing different parts of different people.

I've looked at it, and undoubtedly there's a cover-up. There's actors. They're manipulating. And they've been caught lying. And they were pre-planning before it and rolled out with it.

Miki Meek

What Lenny wanted was a one-on-one conversation with Jones. But it didn't happen.

Lenny Pozner

There were a few emails after that asking me to prove that I'm really who I am, and sort of leading on to get me on the show.

Miki Meek

Lenny didn't want that. He's very private and very reserved, a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. He's careful when he talks-- things like, no comment, that's off the record, or do I have to talk about my personal life? That came up all the time during our interview.

One of the ground rules he gave is that I had to run his quotes past him and his lawyer, because he's worried about his own safety if his words were misconstrued. Also, he's fighting some of the conspiracy theorists in court.

We agreed to his terms, and in the end, he didn't ask me to edit any of his quotes. But he did request that we remove one personal detail, and we did.

Now, a year and a half after he reached out to Alex Jones, he decided to try a new tactic. He'd go directly to Jones's followers and the other Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists.

Veronique De La Rosa

I think his approach was, I'm going to make them see the light.

Miki Meek

This is Veronique. She and Lenny were separated when the shooting happened, but were still very much in each other's lives. They decided to start releasing documents about Noah-- report cards, school photos.

Veronique De La Rosa

He even disclosed Noah's death certificate, which was a difficult decision that we made. But figured after a while of providing this hard copy, convincing evidence that reason would prevail. And they would say, oh, OK, yeah, you've made your point, I'm going to come around.

Miki Meek

Lenny also decided he'd answer anyone's questions. He wanted to join this notorious Facebook group called "Sandy Hook Hoax." It's where a lot of the deniers were congregating and sharing theories. The cover photo on their page looked like it came straight out of a horror movie-- a corpse-like girl with a "keep quiet" finger in front of her mouth. The administrator of the Facebook group immediately let him in.

Miki Meek

Did you identify yourself as, like, I am a father?

Lenny Pozner

They knew who I was. They knew who I was instantly, yeah.

Miki Meek

Like to me, it seems so crazy to even go there. Like, this doesn't exactly sound like a group of people who'd want to listen to you.

Lenny Pozner

People who are conspiracy minded, see these tragedies unfold on the internet or on television, they still feel separate from these events. And I considered that bridging that gap could be an important step.

Miki Meek

So that I can add a human element to this.

Lenny Pozner

That's right. That's right. And so here I am. I'm the person. And so let's see what happens.

Miki Meek

The questions started pouring in.

Lenny Pozner

"Why weren't these children rushed to hospitals?" "Why wasn't anything done?" Why aren't you suing the EMTs?" Or "Why aren't you doing this?" "Why wasn't a rescue helicopter called from Hartford?" And I started to recognize some of the patterns that were there.

Miki Meek

There were the people you'd expect in a conspiracy group-- anti-gun control people, anti-government people, but also parents.

Lenny Pozner

They were young parents with small children. And they just couldn't wrap their minds around the reality that an adult can look at children in their eyes and pump bullets into their head. They just can't deal with that.

Miki Meek

The conversation on this Facebook group quickly got ugly and abusive. Some of the members started using antisemitic slurs. Lenny was trying everything to keep up a rapport with them. He even told them, I listen to Alex Jones in my car. I used to argue with people about 9/11 being an inside job. I entertained that we didn't go to the moon.

But it didn't work. So he started blocking people and fighting back. This got him booted from the group.

What's remarkable is just how up for this whole fight he was. When a bunch of people kept private messaging him, Lenny thought, you know what, I'll just start my own Facebook group. He called it "Conspiracy Theorists Anonymous." This name was meant as a joke. He has a dry sense of humor.

Anyway, he made some progress with people-- the people who weren't full-blown deniers, who actually wanted help parsing out the truth of what really happened. But they dropped away once they got answers. And pretty soon, the only ones left were just dark, sadistic trolls coming in to entertain themselves.

One of Lenny's worst trolls was a guy named Wolfgang Halbig. That's his real name, by the way. He's a retired school security expert in Florida, who's probably the number one Newtown hoaxer in the world. This guy travels to Newtown, appeared as an expert on Alex Jones's show. He's even called for Newtown parents to exhume the bodies of their children to prove that they're dead.

Halbig ordered a background check on Lenny, then sent it out in an email to lots of people. It was almost 100 pages, listing everything from his Social Security number and phone number, to almost every address he'd ever lived at, with photos. Names of his relatives were included too.

The online harassment had become so intense that Lenny and Veronique and their two girls went into hiding. They moved into separate high-security gated communities. But Lenny's address kept getting exposed, and hoaxers started posting videos of where he lived.

Lenny Pozner

One apartment that I had moved into, I had only lived there, I think, for a month. And I got a call from a particular hoaxer-- who happens to be in prison now for attempted murder. And he called me up, and was acting like a smart ass, and then read me my Social Security number, and then read me my address where I had just moved into. And I said, well, you know what, I don't like this apartment that much anyway. And I moved shortly after that.

Miki Meek

To try and throw the hoaxers off, Lenny started putting utility bills in different names, and got multiple PO boxes all over the place. All this forced Lenny into a new battle strategy. If they were going to expose him, he'd do the same to them. He wrote newspaper op-eds, calling out Halbig and the others by name. And when these hoaxers posted his new addresses online, he did the same to them.

He also made it so that if you googled their names, the first thing anyone would see was all the Sandy Hook garbage they'd created. And Lenny being Lenny decided to write a biography about Wolfgang Halbig's life, called The Hoax of a Lifetime. He released it as an e-book. Lenny became "the one who knocks."

He calls this troll wrestling. It's like trolling the trolls. He gets both energized and sheepish when talking about it. He insists sometimes the only way to fight hardcore hoaxers is to turn the tables on them. And it worked on some of them. It freaked them out.

Still, Lenny was just one guy. And every day, new mountains of content about Noah were showing up online. His crusade was a lonely one. The hoaxers seemed so dangerous, most of the other Newtown parents wanted to stay as far away as possible from them.

Lenny Pozner

In my darker moments, the conspiracy part of me would return and ask myself, am I the only one that lost a child? Why am I the only one fighting back? I mean, what the hell is going on?

I mean, people were trampling all over other peoples' children's memories. And those children no longer had a voice to defend themselves. And people were just silent about it.

Miki Meek

But while Lenny was escalating his tactics, so was the other side. Around the second anniversary of Sandy Hook, a small group of conspiracy theorists made an almost three-hour movie on YouTube questioning the shooting. They described themselves as independent journalists and researchers, but their backgrounds were totally random. They included a magician, the owner of a moving company, a guy who'd been arrested for stabbing someone five times, and a stay-at-home dad.

Doug Maguire

I just had an idea that I wanted to be an underground filmmaker myself.

Miki Meek

This is Doug Maguire. He says he met this group online on YouTube and got brought in at the end to help polish the movie. It felt exciting. At the time, Doug was a struggling filmmaker in Los Angeles. Occasionally he did some stunt work.

He got into conspiracy theories the way lots of people do-- watching them on YouTube. Like Lenny, he loved the ones about Bigfoot and UFOs. But then he went to look up news about Sandy Hook. And YouTube's recommendation system started suggesting hoax videos.

He didn't believe the theory that the kids were actors. He thought children died. But he felt pretty sure there was some other kind of cover-up going on, maybe one with the mafia.

Miki Meek

And where did you get that information? Like, where did you come up with this idea of a mob? Had you read this somewhere?

Doug Maguire

No, it was because I make movies. So I think I have an active imagination.

Miki Meek

Wait, hold on, I'm confused. Like, what was your thinking?

Doug Maguire

A family had done someone wrong. Like, let's say the movie Goodfellas. OK? Henry Hill is hiding out in a little village.

Miki Meek

He also mentioned Kindergarten Cop.

When they release their film, they uploaded it to a bunch of different accounts, on places like YouTube, Vimeo, and Dailymotion. Pretty soon, it was showing up everywhere.

To combat this, Lenny had to change tactics one final time. No more talking to hoaxers one-on-one. Now, the thing he'd focus on was content removal-- scrubbing their stuff off the internet.

He decided he was going to get every single copy of the movie taken down, which wasn't going to be easy. He couldn't just write into YouTube and say, hey, this video is full of lies. That wasn't going to be enough. The internet is full of lies. He needed something else. And he realized he had it.

These conspiracy theorists had used photos and videos of him, and Noah, and Veronique. Those were his property, making this movie a copyright violation. The stolen images were now a useful weapon.

Lenny tracked down every place where this video was posted. And you've probably seen this. There's a little button you can click on to report stuff. So that's what he did for hours every day. And success-- sort of. The hoaxers kept re-posting and moving the video on to other sites.

Lenny Pozner

You know, the crazies are not running the asylum. It's the platforms who are allowing this to go on. So that solidifies it for me that we have to just remove all of this garbage, and that's all we need to do.

Miki Meek

But this, of course, pissed off a lot of hoaxers.

Alex Jones

We don't know what's going on. We just know it doesn't look right.

Miki Meek

Alex Jones. He was stumped. Lenny had successfully forced the Infowars site to remove pictures of Noah using copyright.

Alex Jones

So frustrating. This is amazing. The claimant is Lenny Pozner. They think because they can hold out some little kids and say we're shutting people's websites down because they're belittling the memory of these children-- no, we're not. But even if we were, you couldn't violate our First Amendment, because that's what it's there for. And if you take our rights, you take everybody's rights.

Miki Meek

Then Jones put one of the guys who worked on the movie on the air. His name is Brian. He's from Alabama.

Alex Jones

What do you think of us being censored? What's been happening to you?

Brian

I can tell you a lot about Lenny. This man is something that you've never seen before. He's got a group of trolls. And if you--

Alex Jones

I mean, if they're trying to shut us down when we're just investigating it and looking at all sides, it must be horrible for folks out there that vehemently think this is staged. So just specifically, what have you gone through?

Brian

I can't even put up a video showing that he has put up a copyright strike against me without him copyrighting striking that. These people are vile. And Lenny, if you're listening, your day is coming, my friend. It is coming.

Alex Jones

Wow, I mean, this sounds like a war is going on. I think they made a major mistake involving us.

Brian

Oh, I totally agree. They don't know what they've bit off. Go after them, Alex. Crush them.

Miki Meek

In this video on YouTube, Jones showed his fans-- he had millions of them-- Lenny's email, the city he lived in, and the address he picked up his mail. He even held up some satellite shots from Google Earth. Lenny got this video taken down too, flagging it for privacy violations.

But it didn't matter. The hoaxers had taken on a mob mentality, pursuing and harassing Lenny. This is an Infowars fan named Lucy Richards, who left multiple death threats on Lenny's phone.

Lucy Richards

Did you hide your imaginary son in the attic? Are you still fucking him? You fucking Jew bastard.

You're going to die. You're going to rot in hell. Death is coming to you real soon and there's nothing you can do about it. So you're just going to have to take it, OK? Jew bastard. Look behind you. Death is coming to you real soon.

Miki Meek

She said, "Look behind you. Death is coming to you real soon."

Lenny was already living in hiding. He'd moved multiple times by then because hoaxers kept tracking down his address. But now the chances that a hoaxer might show up at his door and kill him suddenly felt much higher. His kids were living with him half the week, and he worried about them.

At the same time, he didn't consider stopping. He didn't think it would make them safer.

Lenny Pozner

That's one of the misconceptions that exist, that people think that I am only targeted because of challenging the content. And that's not the case. I took the action because I was being targeted. So if my address is published all over the internet, my photo was published all over the internet, and my living children's photos are published online, that existed before I did anything. I didn't cause the targeting. It was already there. I was minimizing the targeting.

Miki Meek

He posted receipts for firearms. I'd asked if he actually bought them, and he wouldn't give me an answer.

Amidst all this, Lenny kept up his daily ritual. He'd wake up, make coffee, and then sit in front of his computer for hours, flagging content, trying to systematically erase Noah from the Sandy Hook hoax story.

There was a lot of stuff he couldn't invoke copyright law for, like the death threats and harassment. That was much harder to get taken down. The tech companies were wary of becoming arbiters of truth, making decisions about what its users could and couldn't say. But Lenny, in his usual methodical fashion, kept chipping away.

On YouTube, he kept a scorecard. Once he nailed someone with three copyright strikes, YouTube would remove their accounts. He killed thousands of videos this way. The hoaxers called this "getting Poznered." He'd become a hashtag.

Then he and Veronique helped get a professor in Florida named James Tracy fired. This guy had harassed them for years and kept using Noah's image to promote his conspiracy theories. He's also the one who helped popularize the conspiracy term "crisis actor" on his blog right after the shooting.

And that woman who was leaving death threats, Lucy Richards, Lenny reported her to the police and they arrested her. She was sentenced to five months in jail.

The judge rebuked her for going after Lenny, saying, quote, "This is a reality and there is no fiction. There are no alternative facts." He barred her from Infowars and other conspiracy websites as one of the conditions of her parole.

One surprising thing that happened over the years is that some of the hoaxers who used to harass Lenny flipped to his side. There were dozens of them. Lenny says these were people who came to him only after they changed their own minds, not people he tried to convert. He says that never works. It's a waste of time.

Some of them became disenchanted when they saw Sandy Hook hoaxers who were more interested in photoshopping evidence and getting online followers than tracking down the truth. One of them was Doug, who worked on that hoaxer movie about Sandy Hook. In 2016, he found a phone number for Lenny and left a voicemail.

Doug Maguire

"Hey, Lenny Pozner, this is dickhead Doug Maguire. If you ever need me, if you ever want to get a hold of me and learn about what all these people are up to, here's my number."

Miki Meek

Did you apologize in that message?

Doug Maguire

I don't believe I did.

Miki Meek

Not surprisingly, Lenny didn't return his call. Doug was reaching out to Lenny because the hoaxers had turned on him too. He says he started feuding with some of them after he made a video exposing a Christian YouTuber who was making money off false, outrageous claims. All of his social media accounts then got hacked. Lenny was the only person he could think of who knew how to fight back. He wanted advice.

So he tried him again and got through. He told Lenny that it felt like he'd been sort of brainwashed, that he'd been on a roller coaster ride, that he wanted to switch sides.

Lenny had started a nonprofit called The HONR Network, where volunteers help families from mass tragedies fight digital harassment. So Doug began helping him scrub content.

Miki Meek

When you were doing it, did you feel like you were doing penance?

Doug Maguire

Yeah. Yeah. And my heart is very heavy for this.

Miki Meek

Were you surprised at how quickly Lenny let you in?

Doug Maguire

Yeah. And I still am. The fact that he even is giving me a chance, I'm very humbled.

I tell him I love him. I tell him that he's, like, my mentor. Sometimes I call him "boss," and he says, "Don't call me boss." So--

Miki Meek

Have you apologized to other families at Sandy Hook?

Doug Maguire

No. I think just to try to, like, call up one of these families, that-- they don't-- they don't need to hear from some kind of YouTuber guy in Los Angeles. I think, like, one day-- I am very sorry, very sorry for any problems to the-- to any victims.

Miki Meek

Doug is now one of Lenny's most devoted volunteers. Lenny's got more than 100 people helping him out at any given time, though the burnout rate is high because the work is so intense. And hoaxers harass volunteers like Doug all the time for helping Lenny.

When Lenny googles Noah's name now, he no longer gets page after page of hoaxer content. A lot of it is gone now. Instead, the first hits that come up are news articles about Lenny's fight to make the tech companies more accountable. For years, he's been criticizing them in the press for not doing more to protect families of mass tragedies from online abuse.

Last summer, he and Veronique called out Mark Zuckerberg in an open letter in The Guardian. They wrote, quote, "You, arguably the most powerful man on the planet, have deemed that the attacks on us are immaterial, that providing assistance in removing threats is too cumbersome, and that our lives are less important than providing a safe haven for hate."

Shortly after, Facebook reached out to Lenny. He started working with their content moderators and policymakers, and says their response times are now much faster.

He also helped turn up the heat on Alex Jones. Last spring, he and Veronique, and another dad from Newtown, filed defamation lawsuits against him. Other parents followed with their own suit.

A few months later, Apple started removing Jones's material from iTunes, saying they would not, quote, "tolerate hate speech." Facebook, Google, and Spotify then followed suit. YouTube killed his channel completely, but you can still find his videos on the platform. And Twitter was one of the last to take action against Jones and Infowars. The New York Times reported that getting deplatformed cut his online audience nearly in half.

I met up with Lenny at his place recently. He lives in a gated, high-security residence. He was filing copyright and harassment reports to places like Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Vimeo, and Twitter. He says Twitter is his biggest headache right now. There's content about Noah he still can't get down. And he gets personally attacked there all the time.

Miki Meek

Do you feel like you've like jumped in this rabbit hole that is never going to end?

Lenny Pozner

I don't think I jumped in. I think I just got pulled in.

Miki Meek

You're just constantly subjecting yourself to just so much hateful material.

Lenny Pozner

Just like throwing trash out. Once it's gone, it feels really good. It really does.

Miki Meek

This is what victory looks like-- taking the trash out every day. He recently spotted one of the hoaxers who's been after him. Turns out, the person lives nearby. Lenny's about to have to move again. This will be the eighth time.

Ira Glass

Miki Meek. Since we first broadcast this story in 2019, Lenny, Veronique, and other parents from Sandy Hook have scored some big victories. They won defamation lawsuits against Alex Jones.

Lenny and these families also received a $73 million settlement from Remington. It is notoriously difficult to sue gun manufacturers for the way their guns are used, but the families focused on how Remington marketed their guns to very young people. This is the largest payout a gun manufacturer has ever given out for a mass shooting.

[MUSIC - "THE WATER" BY JOHNNY FLYNN FEAT. LAURA MARLING]

Credits

Ira Glass

Well, today's program was put together by Emanuele Berry, David Kestenbaum, Miki Meek, and myself, with production help from Michele Navarro, Stowe Nelson, Matt Tierney, and Diane Wu.

Our website, thisamericanlife.org, where you can stream our archive of over 750 episodes for absolutely free. Also, there's videos, and lists of favorite shows, tons of other stuff there. Again, thisamericanlife.org.

This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. He recently tried Axe Body spray. You know that stuff? He didn't like it.

Torey Malatia

You can't wash that evil off, man.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of this American life.

[MUSIC - "THE WATER" BY JOHNNY FLYNN FEAT. LAURA MARLING]