Noah Pozner (Photo courtesy of Lenny Pozner at www.noahpozner.com)
Noah Pozner (Photo courtesy of Lenny Pozner at www.noahpozner.com)

In December, parents of a 6-year-old boy who was killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 wrote a letter to the Sun-Sentinel accusing a professor at Florida Atlantic University of harassing them for proof that the murders really happened. The professor, James Tracy, was fired by the university earlier this month.

Since then, the boy’s father, Lenny Pozner, has gotten several death threats.

[University fires professor who says Sandy Hook was a hoax]

Tracy’s alleged harassment was hardly the first, Pozner said. There’s a whole network of people who believe the media reported a mass shooting that never happened, he said, that the tragedy was an elaborate hoax designed to increase support for gun control. Pozner said he gets ugly comments often on social media, such as, “Eventually you’ll be tried for your crimes of treason against the people,” “… I won’t be satisfied until the caksets are opened…” and “How much money did you get for faking all of this?”

A few days after Tracy’s firing was announced, Pozner got several death threats. A woman (judging by the voice) left messages on his phone that sounded like, “You’re gonna die you [expletives and slurs deleted] …And what are you going to do about it? You can do absolutely nothing. … this is coming to you real soon [expletive deleted]. You going to die,” and “You [expletive deleted] look behind you, justice is coming to you real soon.”

A message seeking comment at the number where the call originated was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Pozner said he also got emails with similar threats. “I am concerned for my safety,” he said. “I try to remain vigilant at all times.”

He said he believes the now-daily hateful postings on social media, some of which he documents on the web site for the HONR Network victims’ rights group he founded, may have been prompted by news of Tracy’s firing, of President Obama’s recent executive order on gun control, or both. He said people who believe recent mass shootings are a hoax are in a sort of echo chamber, with the same misinformation and theories traded around.

He particularly objected to Tracy, he said, because “some people have a tendency to take his word at face value because he has a Ph.D. at the end of his name. That’s unfortunate, because if they were to simply fact-check his hoax claims, they’d find that they just don’t hold up to scrutiny. Tracy’s theories about Sandy Hook are as ludicrous and unfounded as those cult leaders who fear-monger about the end of the world.”

Tracy said in an email that he moved things out of his office at Florida Atlantic on Jan. 8 and is hiring another attorney.

“Unfortunately, most news media have failed to present a fair and accurate account of the controversy that has led to the termination of my tenured professorship at FAU,” he wrote.

The news of his firing worried some advocates for academic freedom, who said that even controversial research, such as Tracy’s into press coverage of mass shootings, should be protected, and that he should have a fair hearing.

But it was welcomed by others who were shocked that a professor would go beyond questioning events and analyzing the media in an academic setting to seeking out grieving families and demanding information from them.

In 2012, 27 people — including 20 young children — were shot and killed by a gunman who then turned a gun on himself in Newtown, Conn. Tracy has written extensively about whether the shooting really happened. A post apparently written by Tracy on the “Hoax at Sandy Hook” Facebook page held that no one was killed at the elementary school that day, that the shooting was staged, that co-conspirators got money after acting as grieving parents, and that the Pozners were trying to intimidate the university into firing him for his research seeking the truth.

In an email Tuesday, Tracy wrote, “The event is important because it has terrorized the nation, and is closely related to the Obama administration’s gun control efforts, in addition to new government programs expanding the psychiatric-pharmaceutical complex clientele, particularly among school-age children.”

Veronique and Lenny Pozner wrote in the Sun-Sentinel:  “… Tracy even sent us a certified letter demanding proof that [their son] Noah once lived, that we were his parents, and that we were the rightful owner of his photographic image…We found this so outrageous and unsettling that we filed a police report for harassment. Once Tracy realized we would not respond, he subjected us to ridicule and contempt on his blog, boasting to his readers that the ‘unfulfilled request’ was ‘noteworthy’ because we had used copyright claims to ‘thwart continued research of the Sandy Hook massacre event.’”

Tracy wrote Tuesday, “I am not aware of any threats made to the Pozners, yet their action has encouraged many against me.” Since their public letter in December, he wrote, “I have received at least 100 profane or threatening emails and telephone calls.”

Tracy also wrote, “Are you aware of Mr. Pozner’s concerted efforts to harass individuals who publicly question the Sandy Hook event? There is copious documentation of this, yet some fear retaliation and have stayed silent.”

On the blog Tracy maintains, a guest post last week claimed there’s a network of people “founded by Lenny Pozner to seek out, identify, stalk and harass anyone who investigates the suspicious and confusing facts surrounding the Sandy Hook incident. They are dedicated to investigating individuals’ backgrounds, places of employment, family and friends, and then attacking their targets by posting personal information, pictures and even contacting people’s employers with accusations of harassment.”

Pozner declined to comment on Tracy’s claims.

Pozner wrote in an email that it has been extremely difficult to deal with all of this, as a “father trying to balance grief with the necessity of raising two daughters while honoring the memory of  my murdered son. … Each day we endeavor to fill the void that Noah’s absence left. As a father I struggle to find peace for my family but to no avail.

“… Why is this happening?  Well, quite simply because persistent deniers of high profile tragedies have painted a target on our backs. YouTube channels and Facebook communities have become a breeding ground for hatred and defamation against those of us seeking to heal from this unconscionable crime against humanity. They accuse us of faking our loss as part of some fantastical gun confiscation plot.”

Pozner wrote that since Tracy, “a conspiracy theorist who has spearheaded a libelous campaign against my family,” was fired, it had not stopped the harassment. “In fact, it’s aggravated the assaults. Loyalists to Tracy have sent hateful emails promising revenge, sometimes describing the gruesome violence they intend to execute upon my family.

“It’s been three years since my son’s life was snuffed out by an act of senseless violence and I’m left in a fog of disbelief. Disbelief that a deranged madman could be so callous to kill our children, but perhaps even more baffled that there are those who would deny us the peace we so desperately need to overcome our insurmountable loss. Right now I’m just…I’m just numb!”

Nearly two years after 26 students and educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, the quiet Connecticut suburb of about 27,000 people has been changed. This report is part of a project on gun rights and regulations in America produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program. (Sydney Stavinoha/News21)

Read more: 

Remembering those who were lost: Stories of the victims in the Newtown shooting

After Newtown shooting, parents enter the lonely quiet

Viewpoint: Tenure is disappearing. But its protection of academic freedom helped make U.S. universities the best in the world

False flags, true believers and trolls: Understanding conspiracy theories after tragedies