NEWTOWN -- A Sandy Hook man who sheltered six children fleeing the murderous rampage at their school and the organization that has spearheaded fundraising for the families affected have been inundated with phone calls and messages from conspiracy theorists claiming the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings were a hoax.
Local officials have used such words as "disgusting" and "despicable" to describe those who claim the killings were phony and orchestrated by President Barack Obama's administration to further their gun-control agenda.
Sandy Hook resident Gene Rosen, who lives near the school, confirmed that he has received emails and phone calls from people claiming he is part of a conspiracy.
Rosen, a retired psychologist, declined to elaborate Tuesday on what the callers said.
On Dec. 14, the morning of the shootings, he found six children from Sandy Hook Elementary School sitting in a circle, their faces "filled with terror" on his front lawn.
Rosen brought the children into his home and comforted them with a handful of his grandchildren's stuffed animals. He listened as they described in horror watching the gunman shoot their teacher, saying they could never go back to the school because, "our teacher is gone."
Rosen has been hailed as a hero who helped others in their time of need. He is not the only one who has been subjected to phone calls from conspiracy theorists.
The United Way of Western Connecticut, which established the Sandy Hook School Fund shortly after the shootings, has received many such calls in the past week, according to a statement released Tuesday by the organization.
Officials with the United Way said a Google technical error made it appear that the online form created to accept donations for the Sandy Hook fund was posted three days before the shootings occurred.
Conspiracy theorists have cited the discrepancy in dates as evidence of a hoax.
"It is preposterous and offensive that people are promoting something so hurtful and obviously untrue, while adding to what our community and our families are already experiencing -- a very real depth of pain and sorrow that is just unimaginable," a United Way spokesperson said.
Mark Fenster, author of "Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture," said conspiracy theories are rooted in a populist world view dating back to the American Revolution that makes people suspicious of the government or any concentration of power.
"There are folks who are afraid of the government, some for good reason, and some people who have a fear that someone is going to take their guns -- that seems a bit excessive," said Fenster, who is a law professor at the University of Florida. "But to grace this with the seriousness of real consideration gives it far more than it's really worth."
Fenster said that while people could make an honest argument that gun-control advocates will use the tragedy to further their agenda, "to question if this event even occurred, to say that parents are lying about the death of their child, it's very offensive."
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-731-3358; www.twitter.com/DirkPerrefort