Gene Rosen was walking out of his house to get lunch at a diner in his hometown of Newtown, Conn., when he came across six children and an adult sitting in his driveway. Confused, the retired psychologist asked them what they were doing.
The date was December 14, 2012. Less than a mile away, a shooter had just opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The adult was a school bus driver who had just driven the children away from the scene of the violence.
Rosen, 69, who happens to be Jewish, did exactly what any normal person would do, nothing more, nothing less. He took the children into his house and allowed them to stay there until their parents and authorities arrived to pick them up.
The simple act of kindness isn’t really remarkable. But in a startling and disturbing twist, it has somehow landed Rosen in the middle of a storm of hatred. He has now been targeted by hate-fueled conspiracy theorists who claim the Newtown shooting either didn’t actually happen or was somehow concocted for political gain.
Rosen has been harassed by phone and by email. Fake social media accounts have been created in his name. His story has been the subject of dozens of YouTube videos, one of which is mocked as an “audition tape” for his TV debut. The video shows Rosen, distraught and sobbing, explaining to a reporter what happened from the moment he saw the Sandy Hook children in his driveway.
“[The children] said, ‘What are we going to do for a teacher? Our teacher is dead,’” Rosen says in the video, his voice cracking between sentences.
Rosen’s hesitant manner of speech has been flagged by those suspicious of a cover-up as proof that he is an actor attempting to learn his lines.
“I don’t know what to do,” Rosen told Salon.com in an interview on January 15. “I’m getting hang up calls, I’m getting emails with, not direct threats, but accusations that I’m lying, that I’m a crisis actor, ‘how much am I being paid.’”