Sandy Hook Victim’s Parents Seek to ‘Restore the Honor’ of Their Son

“My son existed.”

Those words, spoken in an Austin courtroom this week, were part of Scarlett Lewis’s testimony about her son Jesse, who was 6 when he and 19 other first graders and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Ms. Lewis and Jesse’s father, Neil Heslin, spoke at the first of three trials to decide the damages to be paid by Alex Jones, the Infowars conspiracy theorist, for defaming the families who lost loved ones in the shooting.

The testimony by Jesse’s parents has turned a spotlight on the torment of those families, and the years of anguish and threats they have endured after Mr. Jones called the Sandy Hook massacre a hoax by the government as a pretext for confiscating Americans’ firearms.

The court proceeding came after Mr. Jones lost four defamation cases last year that had been filed against him by the families of 10 of the shooting victims. The plaintiffs won default judgments after he failed to comply with discovery by withholding documents and testimony.

The jury awarded Ms. Lewis and Mr. Heslin more than $4 million in damages on Thursday, two days after they spoke of their child, their memories and the harm posed by disinformation.

“I am a mother first and foremost and I know you are a father. My son existed,” Ms. Lewis said to Mr. Jones in court on Tuesday. She added, “I hope to accomplish an era of truth.”

Ms. Lewis, who along with Mr. Heslin is seeking $150 million in damages, keeps a photograph of Jesse in her home in Newtown, Conn., that shows the boy with a broad smile. His body is now buried in a cemetery down the street from the house.

Ms. Lewis created a nonprofit youth organization, Choose Love Movement, in Jesse’s name. It develops social and emotional development programs for children and adults.

Mr. Heslin described frightening encounters with conspiracy theorists, including harassing phone calls and personal confrontations. Someone, he testified, once drove past his home and shouted “Alex Jones!” Then he heard the sound of gunfire.

Mr. Heslin, who paused frequently to weep during his testimony, described his son as an energetic boy with a booming voice. The two of them, he said, liked to collect scrap metal and recyclables that Jesse would return for spending money.

Two similar damages trials are scheduled for next month. Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, the parents of Noah Pozner, another of the shooting victims, are set to testify at the second trial, which will also be held in Austin. The third trial, involving the families of eight other victims, will be in Connecticut.

Speaking in court on Wednesday a day after Jesse’s parents appeared, Mr. Jones acknowledged that the Sandy Hook shooting was not a hoax.

“Especially since I’ve met the parents,” he testified. “It’s 100 percent real.”