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Sandy Hook survivor applauds nearly $1 billion verdict in Alex Jones suit

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Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Erica Lafferty speaks with reporters outside Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn., after a jury awarded families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting $965 million in a defamation lawsuit against Alex Jones. "This is a moment years in the making and in this big moment, like every big moment since the shooting, I wish I could call my mom and tell her about it," said Lafferty, whose mother, Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, was killed in the massacre.

Infowars host Alex Jones now owes nearly $1 billion, plus punitive damages, to 15 plaintiffs who sued him in Connecticut. It’s the second time a jury this year has held Jones accountable for the lies he told about the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Since the day it happened, Jones has dismissed the tragedy as a government-sponsored “false flag” to promote gun control. He’s called relatives of victims, including some of the 15 plaintiffs who sued him in Connecticut, actors.

Jordan Gomes knows how very real the shooting was. She was a fourth grader at Sandy Hook when 20 children and six adults were killed at the school.

“I think the fact that they were able to bring him down in court and hold him accountable for the disgusting things that he was saying, it really sends a message of strength throughout this community and shows that we protect each other and we protect the memory of those who passed, and that we won't stand for it,” she said.

Jones and Free Speech Systems, the company he owns, were found liable for defamation last November. The trial concluded Wednesday with a verdict that ordered Jones to pay $965 million in compensatory damages to a former FBI agent and relatives of eight victims killed in the shooting.

Gomes, who said she was shocked at the sum of money, said that while you can’t put a price tag on loss, the verdict is important to her community.

Gomes was not directly involved in the lawsuit, but she’s seen the harm Jones’ comments have caused over the years.

“His ideology did not just exist on the internet in a comment section somewhere, or on his show,” Gomes said. “People would come up to me and force me to, or at least attempt to, defend myself to prove to them that I had been there, to defend my stance, defend my grief, to prove that my community even existed sometimes in the first place.”

Though she said many people have walked away from conversations with her with a different mentality, others have not. And she’s skeptical that this will be the end of conspiracy theorists, but she hopes this sets a precedent.

“Freedom of speech is not freedom of consequences,” she said. “While he and his supporters are correct in the sense that they can physically say whatever they please, it does not protect them from being held accountable for lies. The threats and the harassment that the families face, threats to visit their homes, even threats to bodily harm that were levied against many members of my community – that is not freedom of speech.” 

Now a sophomore in college, Gomes is a gun violence prevention activist.

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.