The school shooting that left 20 students and six educators dead at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday was one of the most traumatic incidents in modern memory for Americans, and in the frenzied hours after the murders, reporting on the incident was spotty for some very good reasons -- unfortunately, this circumstance has given rise to a number of Newtown conspiracy theories on the web including that of a second shooter at Sandy Hook as well as a connection to the global LIBOR scandal.
Before the internet, the horrible incident at Sandy Hook would have been reported and processed far differently -- and therein lies a reason for the initial ambiguity. As we reported on the tragedy Friday, it immediately became clear that press knowledge of the events that day was actively being suppressed by first responders. The reason why seemed to become heartbreakingly discernable between one and two PM that afternoon when the number of victims was first reported -- and around this time, reports of a second shooter in Newtown began to "fall off" from mainstream news sites.
Several hours after reports of a shooting at Sandy Hook materialized on the web, we learned that 20 children had been killed in the massacre. And it all slid into place as the scope of the grief to come became visible. For those 20 children, 40 parents had to be gathered and assembled -- and it seems this correct measure taken to protect the families has helped give rise to Newtown web conspiracies, at least in part.
For many years, it has been standard law enforcement practice to never inform loved ones of deaths or serious accidents over the phone. Cops likely knew Newtown reports would be quickly spread through other means such as Twitter and Facebook, and presumably hoped to spare these 40 parents as well as the families of the six adult women killed the heartache of learning their child, wife or mother had been brutally murdered on a social network.
This cautious approach spread to all areas of the investigation, and media sources reporting on Newtown were subsequently tasked with reporting a breaking story in real time with scant information. Adding to both the confusion and reports of a second shooter at Sandy Hook elementary was the initial chaos at the scene as well as reports Adam Lanza carried brother Ryan Lanza's identification -- possibly leading to the initial misidentification of Ryan Lanza as the gunman.
Below, four of the most prominent Newtown conspiracy theories, and why they don't wash.
An eyewitness report is often considered irrefutable, but the chaos and confusion that day is more than enough to account for many reports a second shooter was involved. Children who recalled seeing a man with a gun still patrolling after Adam Lanza died by his own hand could easily have confused similarly clad SWAT team members for shooters, particularly given the trauma they witnessed that day.
"Initial reports that a 'second gunman' arrested in the woods behind the school was involved in the massacre were later dropped without explanation."
It is in fact a parent that is believed to have inadvertently started the rumor about a Newtown second shooter, via actions any parent can fully understand. The Atlantic comes to the rescue:
"We admit it took a bit of digging to discover that others had figured out that the man in question was most likely Chris Manfredonia, the father of a Sandy Hook student, who attempted to sneak into the school after the shooting started. Police can be heard relaying his name over their radios, but few outlets managed to follow up with that detail."
The distraught parent also explains initial reports the shooter was a parent of a Sandy Hook student. Again, none of these things indicate anything other than initial reporting of an incomplete picture that had emerged, a circumstance the Connecticut State Police actively tried to prevent for this reason.]
Even if the Sandy Hook second shooter hadn't been debunked, how would all those in view of the alleged Newtown second shooter be persuaded to keep quiet about the man who allegedly had a hand in this tragedy? To silence the hundreds present would assume none would ever confide to press, to a spouse or a close friend that the second culprit was kept secret. The sheer impossibility seems its own defense to the second shooter at Newtown claims.
Hours after Adam Lanza's father was confirmed to be living rather than killed before the attack as initially reported, web sleuths began buzzing that the elder Lanza had been scheduled to testify in the LIBOR scandal in coming weeks. (Peter Lanza is vice president of taxes for GE Energy Financial Services.)
Libor scandal grows as the fathers of two mass murderers were to testify examiner.com/article/libor-… via @examinercom
— Another Lew Rockwell (@PlanetRockwell) December 17, 2012
— Another Lew Rockwell (@PlanetRockwell) December 17, 2012
@realalexjones Libor scandal grows as the fathers of two mass murderers were to testify - National (cont) tl.gd/kcq9s3
— *GN* (@_NEWELL_GARY_) December 17, 2012
— *GN* (@_NEWELL_GARY_) December 17, 2012
Not only that, they added, Aurora shooter James Holmes' dad worked for FICO, and previously many had stated that he too had been slated to testify in the LIBOR scandal. It gets worse. CNBC exec Kevin Krim, father of two slain New York City children was also connected to the LIBOR scandal.
Krim was said to have been retaliated against by unknown parties connected to LIBOR for publicizing the scandal on CNBC. How a living witness was allegedly persuaded to carry out these horrible crimes has yet to be explained.
It all falls apart, however, as TPM ascertained that not only did the elder Holmes and elder Lanza not have a connection to the scandal, their respective companies were also not linked with LIBOR. Further, neither man was slated to testify in any LIBOR hearing, as no such hearing has been scheduled.
Upon first glance, the story sounds perhaps slightly eerie in coincidence had it been true, but given the fact there is no evidence for it, those who believe it should probably watch fewer Jason Bourne movies.
Rumors like this may seem harmless, but in actuality, can cause very real anguish for the families of those involved in the Newtown shootings. These are real people, and they have very real grief with which to contend. Baseless speculation can compound their pain should they come across careless comments on the web.
Which brings us to the most upsetting and contemptible Newtown rumor, concerning the father of a victim.
To take interest in a crime is human, but to be willing entertain such a notion seems, to me, to be bordering on deeply disturbed. The "Robbie Parker is an actor" rumor seems to be circulating mainly in YouTube comments on clips of the grieving father's amazingly forgiving yet incredibly heartbreaking comments on CNN the night after his daughter Emilie Parker was killed.
Parker cried as he described his beautiful little girl, and many of us cried as well. But like Dr. Wayne Carver (the medical examiner who unfortunately laughed a few times at press conference at which he spoke after performing more than half a dozen autopsies on tiny victims), Parker is human, and was afflicted with nervous laughter ahead of that was probably one of the worst moments of his life.
Imagine for a second you were forced to address the country on CNN to talk about the death of your child, who you'd watched be born, taught to walk and talk, loved more than any living, breathing thing on Earth.
How would you "act?" None of us can fathom it, because it is unfathomable. And grief is not a blanket of tears, and nervous laughter is a well-known and much-observed phenomenon. Psychology Today explains:
"Interestingly, this same nervous laughter has been noted to occur in many psychological experiments when subjects have found themselves placed under a high degree of emotional stress specifically involving perceived harm to others... We're signaling ourselves that whatever horrible thing we've just encountered isn't really as horrible as it appears, something we often desperately want to believe."
Both are politically valid positions meriting conversation and not an issue for this topic. However, the latter camp has in small parts suggested the Newtown murders were staged as a false flag operation to deliberately rob Americans of their guns.
To believe this theory, you have to believe that our government is willing to shoot 20 children to achieve this end, to engage in a conspiracy of unprecedented scope to carry out the goal. Further, you have to accept that every person who learned of the plan was either on board with the initiative or disposed of forthwith to prevent anyone from learning of the dastardly plot and preventing it.
You have to also accept that this was successful, that no moles pretended to be involved while harboring furtive plans to foil the scheme, and that no leaks would ever occur now or later. You have to believe the government planted people like the Parker family in Utah and then in Connecticut, deliberately, perpetuating this "plan" for years to carry it out now -- which would, of course, pre-date the Obama administration given the children's ages. (Blowing the theory of Obama "taking our guns" out of the water.)
Earlier this week, my ten-year-old daughter said frightened children in her class believed that the disaster of Hurricane Sandy and subsequent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary -- connected by a single word -- clearly portended the end of the world. These ranging and legion Newtown conspiracies seem, alas, to be the same kind of childlike magical thinking.
Is it easier to believe that a shadowy, undetected secret government carried off this particular tragedy to disarm Americans when simply purchasing legislation would have been far less detectable and sociopathic, particularly now that Citizens United simplifies making a secret donation to legislators? Or does it seem more likely one mentally unbalanced individual did the unpredictable and unthinkable, in a country where access to lethally efficient weapons is rife and similar events occurred on American soil in the same week?
Perhaps the former way of thinking is a comfort to some, as the latter tells us all something we don't like to admit -- that random events are scarier than explainable ones, no matter how convoluted the reasoning may be, and we are ultimately powerless to spare our fellow humans and ourselves pain when tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting occur.
A resource for updated Newtown conspiracy theories is Snopes, where a page listing them together has been continuously updated.