Before Sutherland Springs, before Las Vegas, before Orlando, there was Newtown, where a gunman shot 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Noah Pozner, whose family is Jewish, was the youngest person shot that day — one of 20 children.
Lenny Pozner thought that moving far away from the site of his son’s murder could help his family begin the healing process. Soon after Noah’s death, Pozner, his now ex-wife, Veronique Pozner, and their elementary school-aged daughters, Arielle and Sophia, left Newtown, Connecticut, to make a fresh start.
“It was the beginning of a new chapter, in the sunshine of Florida, hoping to find some warmth,” Pozner told the Forward. “It was a new life.”
But after a few nightmare years in their new home in Boca Raton, Florida, the Pozners say they have moved again. They are hoping to escape what Pozner says is rampant harassment by a few individuals — including a local police detective — with little support from Boca Raton law enforcement.
“If you’re a victim of a high-profile tragedy and you’re in Boca and you file a police report, don’t expect any help. Boca PD did nothing to protect me, really,” Pozner said. “They just targeted me.”
Almost immediately after Noah’s death, the Pozners began to receive threatening messages and to find their names in posts on social media from self-styled “truthers”: people who thought the Pozners were part of a massive government conspiracy to convince the world that a lone gunman had killed 20 children. They accused the Pozners — and their son, Noah — of being actors in an elaborate scheme orchestrated to help take away America’s guns.
That theory reaches from Twitter trolls all the way to Alex Jones, anchor of the conspiracy theory program “Infowars.”
“Conspiracy theorists erase the human aspect of history,” Pozner has said. “My child — who lived, who was a real person — is basically going to be erased.”
Pozner said he doesn’t call these people “truthers.” He prefers the term “hoaxers.”
By the time of their move, Veronique Pozner had already become a major national voice in the movement to create stronger regulation on guns. Other families of Newtown victims were in the news this week after the Connecticut Supreme Court heard arguments on a lawsuit brought against the makers the guns used in the shooting. The families claim that the companies should be held accountable for marketing the guns in a way that emphasized their military use and appealed to mentally unstable people.
Though Lenny Pozner would soon become a focus of several profiles, the couple managed to keep the location of their new home a secret.
The family found that it didn’t matter where they lived — they could be targeted by conspiracy theorists wherever they went.
In 2014, Lenny Pozner founded the HONR Network, a group that seeks to expose hoaxer activity online. It proved to be a lightning rod for harassment and threats from the people Pozner was hoping to combat.
One man in particular began targeting Pozner and the HONR Network. Pozner reported him to the police. When Pozner posted posted pictures of his alleged harassers on his blog, he said that a detective called to threaten him with arrest if he continued making those posts. Pozner said the call triggered post-traumatic stress disorder from the Sandy Hook shooting.
Pozner says he made other complaints to the police about hoaxers posting videos of his apartment building online and calling him.
“They completely were disinterested in my background, and the fact that I was the victim of a mass casualty event,” Pozner said.
Last August, a Boca Raton officer from the internal investigations unit sent a letter to Pozner, saying there was no evidence to show that the detective violated any rules.
“The detective was actually trying to help Mr. Pozner out, and he took offense to it,” said Mark Economou, a spokesman for the Boca Raton Police Department.
Pozner was also targeted online by another Boca Raton resident: James Tracy, a professor at Florida Atlantic University and a prominent figure in online conspiracy theory communities.
In multiple blog posts, Tracy accused the Pozners of being complicit in faking the Sandy Hook shooting. Tracy hosts content from a Holocaust denier on his blog, and has demurred when asked about the validity of the Holocaust. He is also a prolific conspiracy theorist, having called the Boston Marathon bombings a “mass casualty drill” with actors posing as victims. For many years he taught an FAU class called “Culture of Conspiracy.” Tracy has accused the Pozners of benefiting financially from the shooting and of faking Noah’s birth certificate.
FAU eventually dismissed Tracy in early 2016, after the Pozners published a letter in the Sun-Sentinel exhaustively detailing how Tracy has propagated falsehoods about the Sandy Hook shooting. Tracy is suing to get his job back.
Louis Leo IV, an attorney for Tracy, said Tracy declined to comment.
The Pozners had other troubles in Boca Raton as well. In June, a judge sentenced a woman to five months in prison for leaving death threats on Lenny Pozner’s voicemail.
For now, the Pozners have relocated elsewhere in the country. Pozner said that he and his ex-wife found houses in an area with good schools. He lives within a 20-minute drive of his children.
Pozner says he never wanted to leave Boca Raton but was forced to do so to ensure the safety of his family. In a blog post from this year, he described the city as “a place I came to in search of solace, due to the disappointing and distressing experiences I have suffered through.”
Correction, November 15, 2017, 12:55 PM — A previous version of this article described James Tracy as a Holocaust denier. Tracy has demurred when asked about the validity of the Holocaust and hosts content from noted Holocaust denier James Fetzer on his blog.