- Jen Hensel's daughter Avielle was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
- Hensel testified Wednesday in the Alex Jones defamation damages trial.
- Hensel said Jones' lies that the shooting was faked still make her worry for her family's safety.
A woman whose daughter was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting spoke about the double pain of later losing her husband to suicide – and then having strangers question whether both deaths were faked.
Jennifer Hensel was the mother of Avielle Richman, one of the 20 first-graders who were shot dead in the December 14, 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Six adults also died in the massacre, including Avielle's teacher, Victoria Soto.
On Wednesday, Hensel testified in Waterbury, Connecticut in the defamation damages trial of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist-peddling host of Infowars. Within hours of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, Jones was claiming on his show that the massacre was staged by the government as a pretext to restrict gun rights.
Hensel said she and her husband first learned that Jones was pushing this lie shortly after the attack, and said the thing that hurt the most was the hoax believers who claimed that Avielle never existed in the first place.
"I don't think you heal from something like this. I think you forever hold grief and you rebuild joy back into your life. Some days one takes over the other. Then you add on the idea that people think that you made all this up for money or that your child didn't exist — that compounds everything," Hensel said.
Hensel said she found it impossible to work, knowing people questioned the very real loss of her daughter, who at the time, was her and her husband's only child.
"I write for a living and I couldn't form sentences. It makes it hard to work. It makes it hard to get out of bed every day. It makes it hard to push that away because you have to push that away — that continual noise," Hensel said.
In 2019, Hensel suffered a second loss when her husband died by suicide, leaving her a single mom to the two children they had in the wake of Avielle's death, who are now five and seven years old respectively.
Again, people questioned whether her husband had even died. She testified that she was told by neighbors that people started stalking the cemetery for signs of her husband's death. Hensel said she didn't immediately get a grave marker for her husband, because she wasn't sure in which way she wanted to honor him in the cemetery. And people used that as evidence to claim he never died in the first place.
Losing her husband has also made her even more afraid for her family's safety.
"When I had Jeremy with me and parenting with me, there were two eyes already around, looking in the back of our cars, looking around us ... who's on the horizon that's going to create trouble? It's just how we'd grown used to living and now it feels like it's just all on my shoulders now — the safety of my children, of my property, of my sanctuary," Hensel said.
Hensel said that her children are so young that they don't know what happened at Sandy Hook, and she wants to protect them from that for as long as possible.
"There are a horde of people out there who could hurt them and shouldn't hurt them, shouldn't talk about them, shouldn't even know about them. And because of what has happened after 12/14 and this hoax, they will know about that at some point, but I want to keep them as innocent as I can for now," Hensel said.
"When they're old enough to find out, I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do, and that's going to be really, really hard," Hensel added.
Jones was not called to testify Wednesday but is expected to take the stand on Thursday. He addressed the media for about a half-hour at lunchtime Wednesday, outside of court, claiming that the case was being used to attack the First and Second Amendments and that he feels as if he's apologized enough to the families.
He called the judge a "tyrant" for the second day in a row, and said "ambulance chasing lawyers" were representing the plaintiffs, who he said have "moved their rage from" the shooter to me."
Jones has already been found liable for defamation by a default judgment, and the trials are to determine how much he owes the plaintiffs in terms of damages. A similar case in Texas wrapped in August, with a jury ordering Jones to pay the parents of one of the Sandy Hook victims nearly $50 million in damages.