Fact Check

Was the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting a Hoax?

A video supposedly documenting that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School were a staged hoax is full of misinformation.

Published Dec. 14, 2012

Updated Feb. 13, 2018
 (StillCallsMeSon / Shutterstock.com)
Image Via StillCallsMeSon / Shutterstock.com
A video documents that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School were a staged hoax.

A video, since removed by YouTube, which was widely circulated after the 14 December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 26 victims dead at that school, purported to show many contradictions in facts surrounding the Sandy Hook shootings which established that the incident was a staged "hoax":

The information presented in that video was a mixture of misinformation, innuendo, and subjective interpretation, such as the following:

1) In the immediate aftermath of the terror and tragedy of the Sandy Hook shootings, there was naturally a great deal of confusion among witnesses, police, and the news media about subjects such as the number of shooters involved, the identities of those involved, and the number of guns used. It's hardly surprising or revelatory to note that some witnesses gave contradictory statements, that police initially followed up on the possibility of multiple shooters, or that some news outlets initially reported inaccurate information. All of this is typical in the crush for information from the news media, public, and relatives of victims that follows in the wake of disasters involving large numbers of deaths.

2) In their initial sweep of the crime scene, police detained or investigated some people who were soon cleared of any involvement with the shootings:

The fact that press coverage of these people was soon dropped is not evidence of the news media's compliance in a suppression of information about the involvement of multiple shooters; these persons were all quickly cleared of any wrongdoing and were therefore peripheral to much larger stories about the Sandy Hook tragedy. As Connecticut State Police spokesperson Lt. Paul Vance stated, “Were there other people detained? The answer is yes. In the height of battle, until you’ve determined who, what, when, where and why of everyone in existence ... that’s not unusual."

3) The seeming contradiction over how Adam Lanza could have used a Bushmaster version AR-15 rifle in the shootings when that same weapon was supposedly found locked in the trunk of his car afterwards was cleared up a few days later. The weapon found in the trunk of Lanza's car was a shotgun, not an AR-15:

Adam Lanza brought three weapons inside Sandy Hook Elementary school on December 14 and left a fourth in his car, police said. Those weapons were a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle and two handguns — a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm. In the car he left a shotgun ...

The primary weapon used in the attack was a "Bushmaster AR-15 assault-type weapon," said Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance.

Connecticut state police issued an update on 23 January 2013 confirming that information:

State police seized four guns when they responded to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December, according to state police.

Police [said they had] provided details in [previous] news conferences but wanted to eliminate any confusion or misinformation.

Police said they found a Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15-E2S rifle with high capacity 30 round clips, a Glock 10-mm handgun and a Sig-Sauer P226 9mm handgun inside the school.

Police identified Adam Lanza as the gunman who shot and killed 20 first graders and six staff members.

Police also searched Lanza’s car, which was in parking lot, and found an Izhmash Canta-12 12-gauge shotgun.

The medical examiner was therefore correct, not mistaken, when he stated that the rifle was the primary weapon used in the shootings.

(A video clip of an early NBC news report from 15 December 2012 which misstated the types of weapons Adam Lanza had with him on the day of the shootings was circulated, a month after the fact, as "proof" that Lanza did not use an AR-15 rifle in the shootings. As noted above, this clip was one of many examples of errors in reporting which occurred in the crush to put out information in the immediate aftermath of the shootings and was soon corrected.)

4) The video questions whether "frantic kids [wouldn't] be a difficult target to hit" and suggests that a "20 year old autistic psyco [sic] with no gun history" would be unlikely to hit so many targets 3 to 11 times each. Such a statement is mind-bogglingly inane: Adam Lanza was not picking off comprehending adults who had free range of action to escape his onslaught; he was using a semi-automatic rifle to shoot at terrified schoolchildren who were trapped in small, enclosed spaces and had little or no understanding of what was taking place.

5) The answer to the question arising from the initial misidentification of Adam Lanza as his brother Ryan, about how Adam Lanza "could possibly have Ryan's valid ID if he has not seen him in years?" is a simple one, provided by Ryan Lanza himself: "Ryan told police that his brother ... might have had his ID even though they had not seen each other in two years." Ryan had last seen his brother in 2010, and many forms of ID are valid for two years or more. (And nothing says the ID in Adam Lanza's possession had to be "valid": even expired ID found on a person is generally assumed to belong to that person until proved otherwise, unless the ID is immediately ruled out due to an obvious mismatch with the characteristics of a photograph or physical description.)

6) One of several erroneous pieces of information promulgated in early reporting on the Sandy Hook tragedy was the claim that Adam Lanza's mother Nancy was a kindergarten teacher at that school. By the following day, most major news outlets were correctly reporting that Nancy Lanza did not have any connection to Sandy Hook Elementary School.Sarah (Sally) Cox, the Sandy Hook school nurse whom USA Today mistakenly reported as saying that Nancy Lanza was a "very caring, experienced kindergarten teacher" is in fact a real person who gave numerous interviews about what she experienced during the shootings. A search run on the Connecticut state eLicensing web site using her given name of Sarah Cox (rather than "Sally Cox," as shown in the video) confirms that she is indeed a registered nurse in the state of Connecticut.

7) Out of all the interviews and public statements made by parents, relatives, friends, and classmates of Sandy Hook victims, the video plucks two brief snippets of Robbie Parker (father of slain 6-year-old Emilie Parker) and Lynn McDonnell (mother of slain 7-year-old Grace McDonnell) smiling and laughing in conjunction with television appearances in which they spoke about their children, offering this as evidence that a hoax is being perpetrated by people who are merely pretending to be grieving parents. But parents who have lost children don't all walk around afterwards utterly glum and disconsolate, never allowing themselves to exhibit any emotion other than sadness. Either of them might have been laughing and smiling during or immediately prior to talking about their children for any number of reasons: because they were reacting to something funny, because they were expressing nervous anxiety about facing a national television audience, or because they were recalling fond memories of their deceased children. Indeed, the audio from the portion of Lynn McDonnell's interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper which was used in this conspiracy video is conveniently muted so that viewers can't see for themselves exactly why she was smiling — because she was remembering what a terrific, happy child her daughter was, and how much she loved her:

COOPER: What do you want people to know about Grace?

LYNN MCDONNELL: Well, Grace had such a great spirit. She was a kind and gentle soul. And she was just the light and love of our family. She was just truly a special, special little girl that we loved, and she loved her brother so much. And she loved her school, Sandy Hook.

In fact, this week, I was telling somebody she had a stomach ache one day, and I said to her, "Why don't you stay home with Mom?"

And she said, "No way, I have too much fun there, and I don't want to miss anything." She would skip to get on the bus. It wasn't even — you know, every morning, it was the backpack was packed the night before and ready to get on the bus in the morning and head off to school. We would blow kisses every morning to each other.

And I remember that morning putting her on the bus. She had a habit of blowing kisses, but then she'd give me a big little liver lips like this. But then she — I knew she was so happy to go off and get there.

So it -- I'd like to say that she was at a place that she loved, and so we take comfort in that, that we know she was in a place that she really loved.

8) Gene Rosen, the man who sheltered in his home six children who escaped from the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, did not, as claimed by the video, take in a group of kids whom a bus driver unquestioningly left with a stranger and then keep custody of them for half an hour without contacting anyone or ascertaining what had happened to them. Rosen and the bus driver both stayed with the children at Rosen's house, elicited from them what had taken place at the school (a process which took some time because the children were initially reticent to talk about what they had witnessed), obtained and called emergency contact numbers to reach their parents, and took them to authorities at a nearby fire station:

[Rosen] went in his garage to feed the cats and when he came out he saw six children sitting in a circle on his front lawn.

The six first-graders somehow had escaped from Sandy Hook Elementary School as a gunman shot and killed 20 young students and six educators.

They ran down Dickinson Drive and around the corner to Rosen's house on Riverside Road -- less than half a mile away.

They had just seen their teacher die.

Rosen invited the children and a bus driver who was with them into the safety of his home.

Two of the boys sat on a rug in front of the couch, Rosen said, and suddenly they began to talk.

"One boy started saying loudly, 'We can't go back to the school, we can't go back to the school, our teacher is gone. Ms. Soto is gone.'"

The other boy joined in, "He had a little gun," Rosen recalled the boy saying, "and a big gun."

A girl also began talking. She said she saw blood coming from Soto's mouth, then the girl fell to the floor, Rosen said, and the narrative stopped.

The children with Rosen knew their phone numbers, but [their] parents were not home. The bus driver called a supervisor and obtained emergency contacts for the parents and more calls were made.

Parents of four of the six children were reached and learned their children were safe. They rushed to Rosen's house, he said.

After reuniting the children with their parents, the group walked to the firehouse next door, where students were being accounted for.

Contrary to what is stated in the video, Gene Rosen, a retired psychologist, is not a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). The claim that he is a SAG member originated with a video showing the results of an Intelius search on a Gene Rosen who is listed as once having worked for the Screen Actors Guild. However, the Gene Rosen whose information is shown in that video is clearly a different person than the one who sheltered several schoolchildren in Connecticut, as the former is 62 years old and is listed as having lived in California, Texas, and New Jersey (but not Connecticut), while a similar search on the "real" Gene Rosen confirms that he is 69 years old and has not resided outside of Connecticut.

The claim that Gene Rosen mentioned looking a casualty list that supposedly wasn't released until two days after his interview is also false. As documented in a Telegraph article, state police made a casualty list publicly available the day after the shootings.

9) The video references photographs of President Obama posing with the families of Sandy Hook students a few days after the shootings, a group which supposedly includes Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old girl who was killed in the shootings. Apparently viewers are expected to believe in an incredible scheme under which the parents of a dead girl who isn't really dead (because she and her parents are actually participants in an elaborate hoax) not only completely forgot that their daughter was supposed to be dead and cluelessly brought her along to meet the President of the United States, they were also foolish enough to post pictures of the event on the Internet for everyone to see.As demonstrated in another video, what the referenced photographs actually picture is one of Emilie's younger sisters wearing a dress similar or identical to one once worn by Emilie.

10) The notion that Homeland Security is employing "crisis actors" to portray grieving parents and others connected with the Sandy Hook shootings (such as Laura and Nick Phelps) is based on nothing more than some superficial physical similarities between persons connected to the Sandy Hooks shootings and completely unrelated persons. It appears to have originated with material gleaned from WellAware1, a web site whose stock in trade is claiming that politicians, government officials, celebrities, and other people featured in media-covered events are actually imposters portrayed by actors, many of whom are supposedly members of the Greenberg/Sexton family. (Among other articles, the site maintains that Adolf Hitler and Walt Disney were both pseudo-persons portrayed by Kermit Roosevelt, son of U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt.)The Crisis Actors organization is a private company (not a government entity) which supplies trained actors to simulate various types of disasters in order to improve the efficiency of first responders and other officials in responding to various emergencies. As noted on the Crisis Actors web site, their actors do not engage in any real-world crisis events, nor do they allow their performances to be presented at any time as real-world events. Contrary to what it stated in the video, it is not true that "there have already been numerous connections between the families of Sandy Hook and members of the Crisis acting team." No person who works with Crisis Actors has been identified as having any link of any kind to the Sandy Hook shootings.

11) The video presents a few brief out-of-context excerpts from a press interview with chief medical examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver II intended to make him seem unsympathetic and even a bit sinister. Whatever his demeanor may have been at times in having to deal with the trying process of satisfying an endless crush of media requests after the shootings, he expressed dismay and sadness in noting that Sandy Hook was the worst murder scene that he had ever witnessed, saying: "I've been at this for a third of a century. This is probably the worst I have seen or the worst that I know of any of my colleagues having seen."Dr. Carver's comment about how one can "control the situation, depending on your photographer" was not, as suggested by the video, an allusion to his attempting to manipulate the crime scene to present a particular contrived view of it to the public. It was a statement about his desire to protect the parents of the murdered students from further emotional upheaval by having them make identifications from photographs of faces only rather than from viewing the bodies of their dead children:

Carver told reporters that he, four doctors, 10 other staff members and a college intern kept family members away from the bodies of the murdered, instead using photographs of the victims' faces for confirmation.

"There is a time and a place for up-close and personal in the grieving process, but to accomplish this, we thought it best to do it this way and you can control the situation, depending on your photographer," Carver said.

As noted earlier in this article, Dr. Carver was in fact correct in stating that the victims were shot with an AR-15 rifle and that that weapon was not later found locked in the trunk of Adam Lanza's car: the weapon stowed in the car trunk was a shotgun, not a rifle. The conspiracy video's compiler, not Dr. Carver, is the "unreliable source of information."

12) Connecticut's Division of Emergency Services and Public Protection, under the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS), did offer a FEMA course in "Planning for the Needs of Children in Disasters" on the day of the Sandy Hook shootings. However, the supposed suspiciousness of this coincidental timing is lessened when one considers that this very same course was offered a total of six times in various parts of the state on different days throughout November and December 2012.

13) The dates of some Facebook pages and snippets of Google search results related to Sandy Hook have been presented as supposed proof that material about the shootings was up on the Internet several days or more before the actual occurrence of those shootings. However, these dates do not provide reliable timelines: Facebook pages which were initially created prior to the Sandy Hook shootings for other reasons and then renamed/repurposed as memorials, tributes, condolences, and donation sites for Sandy Hook victims retained their original pre-shooting creation dates, and the dates prepended to Google search result entries are imprecise and do not always accurately reflect the dates on which the referenced material first appeared on the web (especially when the content of existing web pages has been modified to include new material).By using a date-restricted search, one can find many web-based examples of references to the Sandy Hook shootings which Google's search results erroneously dates as having been published prior to the actual date of those shootings.

14) On 24 September 2014, conspiracy-centric site InfoWars published an article titled "FBI Says No One Killed at Sandy Hook," concluding that the lack of murders included in the agency's 2012 crime statistics amounted to proof that the massacre in Newtown was a "false flag attack":

However, as is often the case in this sort of misinterpretation, the conspiracy buffs at InfoWars neglected to factor in the complicated relationships between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies: the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary fell under the jurisdiction of Connecticut State Police and thus were not specifically included under Newtown's crime statistics for the year of 2012. (This bit of misinformation is debunked in a separate article on this site.)


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Altimari, Dave et al.   “‘The Worst I Have Seen:’ Medical Examiner Says of Sandy Hook Victims.”     Hartford Courant.   15 December 2012.

Amato, Anne M.   “Police: No Newtown Conspiracy.”     Connecticut Post.   3 January 2013.

Bennett, Dashiell.   “Newtown Conspiracy Theories, Debunked.”     The Atlantic.   18 December 2012.

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Ensor, Josie and Raf Sanchez.   “Connecticut School Shooting: Dec 15 As It Happened.”     The Telegraph.   15 December 2012.

Gorosko, Andrew.   “Police Union Seeks Funding for Trauma Treatment.”     The Newtown Bee.   27 December 2012.

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Updated [14 February 2018]: New info added and formatting updated.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.