Fact Check

Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut

Various rumors connected with the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Published Dec. 14, 2012

 (Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Wikimedia Commons
We investigated various rumors connected with the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

As is typically the case in the wake of tragedy, many rumors began to swirl after the 14 December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 26 victims dead at that school. We'll try to keep up with some of the more widely-circulated ones below:

One of the most prominent items circulated on the Internet was an encomium to Sandy Hook teacher Victoria Soto, who reportedly died protecting her students from the gunman:

There is still some confusion about this subject in the news media. Accounts about what happened in Victoria Soto's classroom have differed widely in detail; the consensus seems to be that she was killed while attempting to shield her students with her body and/or get them to safety inside a closet:

Victoria Soto, 27, a first grade teacher, was among the dead.Though details of the 27-year-old teacher's death remained fuzzy, her name has been invoked again and again as a portrait of selflessness and humanity among unfathomable evil.

Investigators informed relatives that she was killed while shielding her first-graders from danger. She reportedly hid some students in a bathroom or closet, ensuring they were safe, a cousin, Jim Wiltsie, told ABC News.

"She was trying to shield, get her children into a closet and protect them from harm," Wiltsie told ABC. "And by doing that, put herself between the gunman and the children."

Five of the 16 kids in Soto's class were slain.

An account from one of Soto's students who survived the shooting indicated she was indeed killed while attempting to protect her students, some of whom escaped by running out of the classroom after she was shot:

The morning inside the school, when the gunfire started, Aidan said it sounded like "falling hammers."His teacher, Ms. Soto, moved her first grade students to the other side of the room. Moments later, the gunman — identified by authorities as 20-year-old Adam Lanza — was in the doorway.

Soto positioned herself in front of the students, and the gunman shot her, Aidan told his parents.

Aidan and the children had always been told during school drills and by his parents to run if he saw somebody with a gun. So that's what he did.

"They ran past the guy. He standing in the doorway, and they just ran right past him," the boy's father said.

Aidan and the boys ran toward the front door, out of the building and then toward the main road where a woman stopped, picked them up and drove them to the police station.

Some of the murkiness in details may be due to a confusion of Victoria Soto with Kaitlin Roig, another Sandy Hook teacher who performed a similar heroic act (and survived to tell her tale):

When the shooting began, Roig said she quickly got up and closed her classroom door and ushered the children, all aged 6 and 7, into the class bathroom. She helped some climb onto the toilet so they could all fit. Roig said she then pushed a wheeled storage unit in front of the door."We all got in there. I locked us in," she said. "I don't know if [the gunman] came in the room... I just told them we have to be absolutely quiet."

"If they started crying, I would take their face and tell them, 'It's going to be OK,'" Roig continued. "I wanted that to be the last thing they heard, not the gunfire in the hall."

Roig said she just tried to stay strong for her students, but she didn't think they would make it out of the classroom alive.

"I thought we were all going to die," she said through tears. "I told the kids I love them and I was so happy they were my students .. I said anyone who believed in the power of the prayer, we need to pray and those who don't believe in prayer" think happy thoughts.

Throughout the ordeal, Roig said her students were being very good and she tried to remain positive for them.

"They asked, 'Can we go see if anyone is out there ... I just want Christmas ... I don't want to die, I just want to have Christmas," she said.

Another item was a commentary attributed to actor Morgan Freeman, expressing the opinion that a quest for notoriety was the predominant motivation of those who perpetrate mass shootings:

I found this quote attributed to Morgan Freeman that is so disturbingly, poignantly, accurate.“You want to know why [these shootings keep happening]? This may sound cynical, but here’s why. It’s because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single victim of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he’ll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.

CNN’s article says that if the body count “holds up”, this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer’s face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer’s identity? None that I’ve seen yet. Because they don’t sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you’ve just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.

You can help by forgetting you ever read this man's name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news."

These words didn't originate with Morgan Freeman, as a spokesperson for the actor confirmed:

A statement incorrectly attributed to actor Morgan Freeman about the Connecticut school shooting is making rounds on the internet and on Facebook. The statement was not made by the actor, according to his spokesperson.Several sites, including Examiner, published the statement and attributed it to Freeman following the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The statement criticizes the media on how it reports on mass shootings and encourages people to donate to mental health research.

When asked if Freeman made the statement in question, a spokesperson for the 75-year-old actor said, "He did not write nor release this statement." The spokesperson later added, "To date he has not released any statement [about the shooting]."

These words were actually written and posted by a Facebook user (who asked not to be identified) just after noon on the day of the Newtown shootings; after his words had spread far and wide as commentary attributed to actor Morgan Freeman, that user wrote of the phenomenon:

I won't deny that I’m fascinated by the whole viral thing, amused maybe, but I probably find it a lot less hilarious than most. I did not post this for personal gain. I wasn't quoting anyone. I did not even share it publicly at first; I literally thought it would only reach my friends and family, who were posting to wonder why this tragedy happened. You're welcome to disagree with my opinion; it was my immediate, unfiltered reaction to the shooting, and I spoke from the heart without editing or researching media trends or whatever my detractors wanted from me. But I talked about what I saw and what I have seen in the years since Columbine, and even before.There was no Share button since it wasn't public, so people copy/pasted it. Knowing that, I made an off-handed comment that someone will likely attribute it to one of a few celebrities who get words put in their mouths on the internet on a regular basis. I never said "do this". Some ran with it, others' friends believed it was their own quote despite having tagged me in the repost, or edited sentences out of my original post to suit their opinions. For the next several hours I watched it balloon into something huge. And yes, watching it unfold has been pretty insane. I've seen friends on my own buddy list repost it, unironically attributing it to Mr. Freeman.

Another quote related to the shootings was attributed to actor Samuel L. Jackson:

Samuel L Jackson said this today about the Sandy Hook shooting: "I don't think it's about more gun control. I grew up in the South with guns everywhere and we never shot anyone. This [shooting] is about people who aren't taught the value of life."

These words actually did come from Jackson, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

The shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., have stirred up a slew of gun-control sentiment in Hollywood.But an actor who stars in perhaps the most gun-heavy movie of the season says that an abundance of firearms in this country isn't necessarily the problem, and that reducing them isn't automatically the answer.

"I don't think it's about more gun control," said Samuel L. Jackson, who stars as a conniving house slave in Quentin Tarantino's upcoming revenge fantasy "Django Unchained." "I grew up in the South with guns everywhere and we never shot anyone. This [shooting] is about people who aren't taught the value of life."

A couple of items purported to be notes left behind by children who were killed in the shootings, one from a boy named Brian, and one form a girl named Ellie:

These items were circulating before any of the bodies had been removed from the scene of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary or the names of the victims had been made public, so it's exceedingly unlikely any such genuine notes would have made their way out to the public so quickly. And when the list of victims' names was subsequently released to the public, no children named Brian or Ellie appeared on it. (The first note is curiously written in both Hungarian and English and reads more like a child's note to his deceased mother.)

Many readers have inquired about the correct address for sending sympathy cards to personnel at Sandy Hook Elementary:

This address is being posted on FB for the Sandy Hook Elementary School for people to send sympathy cards.Sandy Hook Elementary School
12 Dickenson Drive
Sandy Hook, CT. 06482

Is this the correct address, I would love to send card with a prayer for the children and staff lost and for those left behind to mourn their loss.

This is the correct physical address for Sandy Hook Elementary School (Sandy Hook itself is a village within the town of Newtown), although we can't say how receptive the personnel there will be to receiving a flood of sympathy cards or whether they have the space and staff necessary to store and process them all. A better address to use for the sending of condolences might be one that has been established by the USPS specifically for that purpose:

Messages of Condolence for Newtown
PO Box 3700
Newtown, CT 06470

Another entreaty called for students to make and decorate snowflakes to be sent to the building that will house students from Sandy Hook Elementary School:

A building has been designated to house the students from Sandy Hook Elementary School. They are in the process of transporting desks, chairs, supplies and so forth to this location. My neighbor is the president of the Newtown PTA and we met tonight discussing what we can do to make these children feel comforted upon their return to school. Please join us in "The Snowflake Project"We are asking your students to make and decorate a snowflake. We will hang them in the hallways at the stark, new building where the Sandy Hook students will be returning. PLEASE NO WORDS! We want just a cheerful, happy (glitter and sparkle) environment for the students entering the new building.

Please pass on to any teachers you think may want to participate.

When you send your snowflakes, please include a note to tell us where they are from (your school, class, town, etc) to display along with your snowflakes. You can send them to me directly, and I will give them to our PTA.

Bonny Marsicano
22 Pine Tree Hill Road
Newtown, CT 06470

The snowflake project was listed on the web site of the Connecticut PTSA; however, according to the Newtown Bee the response has been so overwhelming that officials have since asked the public to stop sending snowflakes:

The response to an initiative by Newtown PTAs and the Connecticut PTA to create snowflakes to decorate the Chalk Hill School in Monroe, where Sandy Hook Elementary School students will return to school after the holiday break, has created a blizzard. So many snowflakes have been delivered to Connecticut, from all over the nation, that the PTA is now pleading for school children and others to please stop creating and sending the winter icons."There is a semi-tractor trailer truck parked in Hamden [where the Connecticut PTA is located] to store all of the snowflakes," said Middle Gate PTA President Kelley Mozelak, "and it's full."

The original idea had been to find a way to give children a way to support the children of Sandy Hook School and to help decorate the hallways of the new school, Ms Mozelak said. The local and state PTAs are extremely grateful for the participation, she said, and look forward toward a day in January when they will be able to decorate Chalk Hill School with the many snowflakes they have received.

Another much-circulated item had to do with a shooting at the Clackamas Town Center in Oregon which took place a few days before the tragedy in Newtown:

On the social media the last two days. "The leftist media did not report that a man (Nick Meli) with a concealed weapon (permitted) stopped the shooting at Clackamas Town Center (Oregon) which killed two shoppers and ended with the suspect's suicide."

In the referenced 11 December 2012 incident at the Clackamas Town Center, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts opened fire with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle near the mall's food court, spraying bullets that killed two adults and seriously wounded a teenager. Roberts then walked down a hall, down some steps and shot himself to death.

According to an interview he gave with Portland television station KGW, a citizen named Nick Meli was present in the mall that day, carrying a concealed weapon for which he had a permit. When Meli heard Roberts open fire, he pulled his own weapon and trained it on Roberts but did not shoot for fear of hitting a bystander:

Nick Meli is emotionally drained. The 22-year-old was at Clackamas Town Center with a friend and her baby when a masked man opened fire. "I heard three shots and turned and looked at Casey and said, 'are you serious?,'" he said.The friend and baby hit the floor. Meli, who has a concealed carry permit, positioned himself behind a pillar.

"He was working on his rifle," said Meli. "He kept pulling the charging handle and hitting the side."

The break in gunfire allowed Meli to pull out his own gun, but he never took his eyes off the shooter.

"As I was going down to pull, I saw someone in the back of the Charlotte move, and I knew if I fired and missed, I could hit them," he said. Meli took cover inside a nearby store. He never pulled the trigger. He stands by that decision.

"I'm not beating myself up cause I didn't shoot him," said Meli. "I know after he saw me, I think the last shot he fired was the one he used on himself."

Whether Meli's self-reported actions prevented additional loss of life that day is a matter of speculation — since Jacob Roberts killed himself at the scene, there's no way of knowing for sure whether his being confronted by an armed citizen might have caused him to break off shooting earlier than he otherwise would have.

A similar item of inquiry concerned a 1997 school shooting in Mississippi:

A 1997 high school shooting in Pearl, Miss., was halted by the school's vice principal after he retrieved the Colt .45 he kept in his truck.

In this 1 October 1997 incident, 16-year-old Luke Woodham stabbed his mother to death with a butcher knife in their home, then drove to his high school in Pearl, Mississippi, with a .30-.30 rifle, where he killed two classmates and wounded seven more. Woodham was apprehended in his car by assistant principal Joel Myrick, who confronted him with a .45-caliber pistol he had retrieved from own vehicle.

Joel Myrick didn't actually "halt" the shooting at Pearl High, as Luke Woodham had broken off his attack, exited the school, headed toward the parking lot, and was attempting to leave the school in his car when he was finally stopped by Myrick. The claim that Myrick's actions saved additional lives stems from reports that Woodham was on his way to Pearl Junior High School to continue shooting when Myrick subdued him, but evidence documenting that Woodham had such an intent is not conclusive.

Another item had to do with rumors that members of the Westboro Baptist Church were planning on picketing the funerals of Newtown shooting victims:

I just saw a very disturbing post on Facebook that states Westboro "Baptist" Church is a hate group that is planning on picketing
the Funerals of the Sandy Hook Elementary victims. Could you please look into this and advise. I really doubt that this is legitimate and really dislike stuff like this spreading all over the place when it's false.

Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an Independent Baptist church in Topeka, Kansas, headed by pastor Fred Phelps. WBC is widely known for its anti-homosexual stance, and members of its congregation have drawn much publicity by staging anti-gay protests and picketing at the funerals of military members and celebrities. (At such funerals, WBC members typically portray the deceased's passing as God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.)

Shortly after the Newtown shootings, concern arose that WBC was planning to picket the funerals of the victims of that tragedy due to a Twitter post issued on the morning after the shootings by Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokesperson for the group, which said that "Westboro will picket Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment." It was unclear exactly what and when WBC was planning to picket, although another Twitter post from Margie Phelps suggested that the target of the picketing would be a 16 December 2012 prayer vigil attended by President Obama. (That event came off with no Westboro protesters in sight.)

Another item of interest was a widely-circulated blog post titled "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother":

A blog entitled "I am Adam Lanza's mother" has been circulating widely on Facebook. It describes a mom's experience raising a 13 year old disabled child. Someone else posted a comment that the author is a blogger who has previously exploited her kids for gain on her blog.

On the day of the Newtown shootings, Liza Long posted an entry entitled "Thinking the Unthinkable" on her The Anarchist Soccer Mom blog, about her difficulties in dealing with her own mentally ill 13-year old son due to our society's "stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system" which provides no option other than treating the mentally ill as criminals. Long's blog entry garnered much attention and praise after it was widely circulated on the Internet under the title "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother," which soon prompted criticism from Sarah Kendzior, who charged in her own blog entry that Liza Long "has written a series of vindictive and cruel posts about her children" and was attempting to "create a media campaign designed to give her sympathy":

Liza Long, the woman who wrote the viral post “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” is being held up as a heroic woman warranting sympathy for bring the plight of her mentally ill son to the public.Her blog tells a different story. Long has written a series of vindictive and cruel posts about her children in which she fantasizes about beating them, locking them up and giving them away. In most posts, her allegedly insane and violent son is portrayed as a normal boy who incites her wrath by being messy, buying too many Apple products and supporting Obama.

I feel uncomfortable speculating about someone’s private life based on a blog. But since these children are likely to be the object of enormous media attention, someone should be paying close attention to the words of their mother.

Liza Long and Sarah Kendzior later issued a joint statement indicating they had agreed to refrain from publicly criticizing each other for the time being.

An Internet posting claimed that Peter Lanza (the father of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza) was, like Robert Holmes (the father of James Eagan Holmes, who has been charged with killing twelve people in an Aurora, Colorado theater in July 2012) was scheduled to testify before a U.S. Senate committee investigating the LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) scandal:

The father of Newtown Connecticut school shooter Adam Lanza is Peter Lanza who is a VP and Tax Director at GE Financial. The father of Aurora Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes is Robert Holmes, the lead scientist for the credit score company FICO. Both men were to testify before the US Senate in the ongoing LIBOR scandal. The London Interbank Offered Rate, known as Libor, is the average interest rate at which banks can borrow from each other. 16 international banks have been implicated in this ongoing scandal, accused of rigging contracts worth trillions of dollars. HSBC has already been fined $1.9 billion and three of their low level traders arrested.Ladies and gentlemen, we have a motive and a link. This coincidence is impossible to overlook. Two mass shootings connected to LIBOR.

However, as noted at TPM, neither of the companies these men reportedly work for (G.E. and FICO) has any obvious connection to the LIBOR scandal, the Senate Banking Committee currently has no hearings scheduled on that issue, and neither man was ever considered as a potential witness in such an investigation:

Like FICO, GE has no obvious connection to the investigation, which has roped in various other financial institutions. And once again, there is no "witness list" that includes Lanza because there isn't even a hearing on the issue."This rumor is 100% false," a Senate Banking Committee aide [said] by email. "The Senate Banking Committee does not have any LIBOR hearings currently scheduled, and has never considered either of these men as potential witnesses."

One item told of Craig Pusley, reportedly a Marine Corp Reservist facing punishment for taking up a position standing guard outside Hughson Elementary School near Modesto, California:

Sgt. Craig Pusley wears his desert camo fatigues... no weapons... just him. Took it upon himself to go to the nearby school and stand watch outside. The school loved it. The principal thanked him. No pay.. no breaks... just his heart felt need to do this. His reward? Marine Corp Reservists says he violated protocol bt wearing his fatigues and not his dress uniform in public. Facing $10,000 fine and 5 years in prison. Also getting a "dishonorable" stamp on his "honorable" discharge. He served 2 tours in iraq, in Baghdad and Ramadi. One in Helmand province of Afghanistan before leaving active duty.Now he is writing a letter to the President apoligizing for his actions.

WAKE UP! This man is a wonderful outstanding brave hero in my book and to think for a second that his heart felt need to go stand in front of his little neighborhood school was wrong. Screw you! The President should be sending him a Thank you letter.

So I salute you Sgt. Craig Pusley. Thank you!

This is something I would like to see go viral. Let's stand up and say Thank you to this man who didn't think twice... he followed his heart and there is no crime in doing that."

Pusley stood outside Hughson Elementary School during school hours on 19 December 2012 and then said he was threatened with a punishment of up to a $10,000 fine and five years in prison for wearing fatigues instead of a dress uniform in public. But later news accounts reported he would not face punishment because, contrary to his claims, he was neither a sergeant nor a member of Marine Corps Reserve:

The feel-good story of a former U.S. Marine standing guard outside a local elementary school doesn't feel so good the day after.Craig Pusley said he was a sergeant in the Reserve after being on active duty in Afghanistan. He also claimed to be in the service for nearly 10 years, as well as serving two tours in Iraq.

It turns out Pusley isn't in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, he didn't serve overseas as he [said] and he was discharged after less than a year with the second-lowest ranking in the Marines, private first class (E-2).

Pusley, who stood guard in uniform but unarmed outside Hughson Elementary School, was stationed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego from July 2007 until April 2008, according to the Marines' public affairs office. He was never deployed.

Marines spokesman Capt. Gregory A. Wolf said a Marine Corps order prohibits former Marines from wearing their uniform in public, except for military funerals, memorial services, weddings, inaugurals, and parades on national or state holidays.

Capt. Wolf said the Marine Corps is not investigating Pusley.

A widely circulated video purported to show many contradictions in facts surrounding the Sandy Hook shootings which established that the incident was a staged "hoax" is covered in a separate article on this site.


    Austin, Nanl.   "Valley Marine Calls Himself to Duty at Elementary School."     The Modesto Bee.   19 December 2012.

    Benner, Mike.   "Clackamas Mall Shooter Faced Man with Concealed Weapon."     KGW-TV [Portland].   17 December 2012.

    Chua-Eoan, Howard.   "Mississippi Gothic."     Time.   24 June 2001.

    Effron, Lauren.   "Newtown Teacher Refused to Unlock Door for Police Fearing Gunman's Trick."     ABC News.   14 December 2012.

    Orr, James.   "Parents Reveal How Teacher Kaitlin Roig Saved Their Children's Lives."     The Telegraph.   15 December 2012.

    Sedensky, Matt.   "'Always Smiling': Portraits of Conn. Victims."     Associated Press.   15 December 2012.

    Terry, Lynne.   "Man Trained Gun on Jacob Roberts, Didn't Fire."     The Oregonian.   17 December 2012.

    CBS Sacramento.   "Marine Standing Guard at Elementary School Lied About Service Record."     20 December 2012.

    CNN.com.   "Teen Pleads Innocent in High School Shooting."     2 October 1997.<

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