For Parker, 40, it was a moment of vindication and catharsis.
After his daughter Emilie, 6, was killed on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Parker became a prime target of Jones’ outlandish conspiracy theories.
Parker was the first parent to express his grief publicly after the massacre, in which 20 children and six educators were killed. His anguished statement, full of love for Emilie, was broadcast across the country the day after the shooting.
Jones was also watching. He seized on something Parker did — a brief laugh at a remark made by his father when he faced an unexpectedly large crowd of reporters — to further the lie that the shooting was staged.
Parker was an actor, Jones said, part of a sinister plot by the government to implement gun control. Jones repeatedly did mock impressions of Parker, switching from laughing to crying in an instant. He called Parker “disgusting” and “sick.”
For years, Parker remained silent despite a campaign of threats and harassment from conspiracy theorists that drove his family from Connecticut. He feared that anything he said would give them additional ammunition. He blamed himself and believed that the families of the other victims did as well.
“I started to feel like everyone was looking at me like Alex Jones did,” he said in an interview after Wednesday’s sentencing. “That’s what trauma does to you.”
The trial was a “chance to reclaim these things in my life that were taken from me,” he continued. “I have to reclaim my own history. I have to be who I was again and find my voice.”
Jones’ lies about Parker were part of a series of falsehoods he circulated about the massacre, claims that led to years of threatening letters, voicemails, emails and real-life meetings for victims’ families.
Wednesday’s sentence means Jones must pay restitution to the families of eight of the victims, as well as an FBI agent who responded to the scene. Parker received the largest single award of $120 million for defamation and emotional distress.
Standing outside the courthouse, Parker thanked his attorneys for giving him the strength to “fight and stand up to what had happened to me for so long.” During the trial, the families had done only one thing, he said: They told the truth.
Alex Jones ordered to pay nearly $1 billion to Sandy Hook families
When Parker stepped forward to a bank of microphones nearly a decade ago, his only thought was to honor and protect his daughter’s memory.
But the stream of abuse that followed, spurred on by Jones, led to feelings of shame and guilt and isolation. Parker couldn’t shake the thought that he had somehow “brought this on everyone,” he told the jury last month in Connecticut, his voice shaking. “I was the first person to say something.”
For Robbie and his wife Alissa, the harassment started even before they buried their daughter, a lively and empathetic first-grader who loved to draw and was a best friend to her two younger sisters.
At the trial, Robbie testified how he had found Alissa curled up in a closet at the funeral home as they prepared to memorialize their daughter, paralyzed with fear and worry. It had only been a week since the massacre, but a Facebook page in honor of Emilie was already flooded with threats and abuse. Commenters called Emilie a “whore” and Robbie a liar, Alissa testified.
“I hardly remember what was said on the day of the funeral,” she said. “They stole it from me.”
Parker said he had been taught that the best way to deal with bullies was to ignore them. He recalled telling a friend that the conspiracy theorists were “people taking a break from looking for Big Foot” and that they would disappear after several weeks. It never happened.
Seeking anonymity, the Parker family moved across the country to Washington state a little more than a year after the shooting. Months later, they bought a house, and soon after its location and sales details were released online by conspiracy theorists. They endured years of threatening correspondence despite living thousands of miles from where their daughter was slaughtered. Parker testified that he could tell when Jones had mentioned him because it equated to an increase in harassment.
Robbie described in court a 2016 incident in Seattle in which a man confronted him on the street with an expletive-laden tirade. Robbie said the man swore at him and demanded to know how much money he had been paid by the government. The man continued to taunt him: “Emilie is alive, right? She’s alive, huh…she’s alive.”
The Sandy Hook families testified that the conspiracy theories and harassment continue. Alissa recounted how three people at her church in Washington last month told her their relatives do not believe the massacre was real.
Ian Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed at the school, told jurors that when he returned to his car at a Costco in Connecticut last year, he found a map on the windshield. On one side, it featured a photo of Parker smiling on the day of his statement, with the words “Happy, laughing Robbie Parker one day after his little girl was shot.”
Parker blamed himself for the momentary smile. He was nervous and didn’t know how to start talking to reporters. His father stood near him and offered brief words of encouragement using a childhood nickname, prompting laughter. Parker was disgusted with himself, he said. He believed that the other families also blamed him.
Alissa cried as she described in court how shame and fear had transformed her husband. She described him as cautious, distrustful and watchful. He hasn’t made a new friend since the shooting, she said. He always backs into parking spaces if the family has to drive away quickly and chooses seats in restaurants where he can see the whole room.
After Alissa testified, Robbie said several other parents approached him and asked him if he had really felt responsible for the harassment the families had suffered. He said yes. They hugged him and they all started crying. “Please don’t ever, ever feel that way,” one parent told him.
Parker had initially hesitated to join the defamation suit. That changed in mid-2018 after he and Alissa were introduced to the parents of one of the victims of the Parkland high school shooting. Hearing them talk took Parker back six years to the shock of Emilie’s death. The Parkland family also spoke about how an interview the father gave was circulated by conspiracy theorists.
“It broke open for this gate that I had kept everything behind,” Parker said in court. It’s “horrible” that families “have to deal with this when all you want to do is grieve.” There was something he could do for them, he realized: fight back. He was the last plaintiff to sign the case.
“I had to do this for me,” he said in an interview. And “because it will help other people too.”
The trial began last month after four years of evasion and delay by Jones. The judge had already found him liable for defamation in a default judgment for his failure to produce crucial documents as part of the discovery process. The jury’s job was to decide how much Jones would pay in damages.
As Jones took the stand, Christopher Mattei, the plaintiffs’ attorney, played Robbie’s statement to the press from December 2012, in which the father spoke in tender detail about his murdered child.
Mattei pointed to Parker in the audience in the courtroom. “He’s real, isn’t he?” Mattei Jones asked. “For years you’ve put a target on his back.”
Parker knew Jones wouldn’t stay to hear his testimony, but the fact the defendant had to listen to the entire statement meant Jones “finally got to see the person I was,” Parker said. “And that was very, very empowering for me.”
As he spent time with the other families during the trial, Parker said, his guilt began to rise. He had spent years at a geographical and emotional distance from the families still in Connecticut, assuming they blamed him for what had happened. Now they had lunch together and shared details of their lives.
Francine Wheeler’s son Ben was killed at Sandy Hook. Over a meal, she told Parker she hadn’t realized he was so funny. Ian Hockley and Parker bonded over their shared enthusiasm for long distance relay races and decided they wanted to do one together.
When Parker took the stand at trial, he carried a small roll of paper in his pocket that his daughter Samantha, now 13, had given him. On it was a handwritten message: “You’re not just doing this for you. You’re also helping your family and many other people. Keep going. You’ve got this. Love, Sam.”
After the verdict was announced Wednesday, Parker called Alissa, who was at home with their daughters in Washington. She told him she was proud of him.
Alissa is organizing a craft fair at their church this weekend, and Robbie had promised to help prepare. He couldn’t wait to get home to see his wife and daughters. Before the journey began, he carefully packed the note from Samantha into his luggage.