It's difficult to imagine the kind of suffering the family of Grace McDonnell has endured. In some ways it feels disrespectful to even believe you can, given the enormity of what happened to them. The same can no doubt be said for the parents and loved ones of all the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. And yet Grace's parents, in particular, have been subjected not only to the relentless pain of losing their young daughter, but, recently, to the psychopathic whims of those who believe their child never existed in the first place -- those who believe that she was some kind of phantasm concocted by faceless nefarious entities trying to pull a fast one on the American public for who knows what reason. These people, Sandy Hook truthers, are a unique product of our time: self-righteous fools full of misplaced intellectual certitude, bolstered by digital misinformation and the confederacy of like-minded lunatics social media can provide to them.
It was one of these truthers, these conspiracy theorists to whom notions like logic and reason are meaningless, who stole a sign placed at a memorial playground honoring Grace McDonnell in Mystic, Conn. last week. This same person then called Lynn McDonnell, Grace's still-grieving mother, and told her that he was on to her -- that her child had never been real and was merely part of the elaborate hoax that was Sandy Hook. When news of this began making the rounds, most decent people responded as you would expect them to: with visceral outrage. I myself wrote a piece here in response to the provocation that attempted to call-out the monster responsible. It was titled "An Open Letter To Whoever Stole a Sandy Hook Victim’s Memorial Sign" and through The Daily Banter and The Huffington Post it received a good amount of attention and circulation. It even received, it seems, the attention of the person it was aimed at -- the person who actually stole the sign.
On Tuesday, my co-worker and friend Bob Cesca called me out of the blue to pass along a pretty disturbing bit of information. He said that he had just taken a call from a relative of his who lives in Northern Virginia, and that this relative told him that a stranger had just shown up at his doorstep demanding to see Bob. The man apparently was hoping to talk to Bob in an effort to contact me. He claimed to be the person who had stolen the sign from Grace McDonnell's memorial playground. He gave Bob's relative a local public phone number and asked him to get in contact with Bob who would then get in contact with me and tell me to give him a call. My first thought upon hearing this, after being concerned for the safety of Bob's family, was that whoever had appeared out of the blue in Northern Virginia looking for me wasn't really anyone I wanted to speak to. He may have made a surprising -- and somewhat disconcerting -- amount of effort to get in touch with me, but that didn't mean he was anything more than a garden variety nutjob who'd read my piece and wanted to take credit for an unconscionable offense in the name of getting attention. But I took down the number and called it as soon as I hung up with Bob.
The person who answered the line sounded lucid, which made it all the more unnerving that what he began saying right off the bat was a panoply of conspiratorial crazy. He asked me if I'd heard of the Illuminati. If I knew about Bohemian Grove. If I understood that my ex-employer CNN was helping to usher in the New World Order. He kept referring to Anderson Cooper as my former boss, for some reason. (I never worked on Cooper's show and even if I had he wouldn't have technically been my boss.) He insisted that during CNN's Sandy Hook coverage, Cooper had held up an owl, which he said was the symbol of Bohemian Grove and those working to bring about a one-world government. When I told him that I personally knew about a dozen people who covered Sandy Hook and were on-scene in the aftermath of the shooting, he demanded to know if those people had actually seen any bodies. He insisted, among other supposed giveaways, that none of the parents of the Sandy Hook victims cried on camera, proving that they either weren't actually grieving or were paid actors.
"Well, they can't help but smile," I said. "You would too if you were a member of the Illuminati."
"Exactly!" he responded.
Obviously, I took very little of this conversation seriously, mostly because, as I said to him at the very beginning, until I saw proof that he was who he claimed to be, he was just some random crazy person. I told him that if he wanted to prove himself he would have to send me pictures of the stolen signs. Yes, signs. He claimed to have taken not only the Grace McDonnell placard but one honoring another Sandy Hook victim, Chase Kowalski. He said that this one had simply gone unreported, as had the fact that he also called Chase's mother, Rebecca Kowalski, to taunt her in the same way he taunted Lynn McDonnell. When he asked how he could get pictures to me, I told him: e-mail, text, whatever. He said he didn't trust e-mail because of the ability of the government to surveil that kind of communication. I reminded him that the phone at which he told me to contact him was in the middle of a shopping mall and there were probably three cameras on him at that very moment.
We ended our little conversation with my asking what I should call him, should he contact me again. I flippantly suggested "Deep Throat," and he decided on Deep Throat's true identity, Mark Felt. We hung up. That was it. I was pissed that anyone would want to claim responsibility for something so heinous, but figured that kind of hubris was just the nature of the conspiracist truther movement and that I'd never hear from him again. I called the Newtown and Stonington police departments to report the conversation and passed along the number I had called in Virginia, the number "Mark Felt" claimed he had also used to call Lynn McDonnell. I made a few more calls to try to confirm what little information he had divulged about himself and researched what I knew about his location and the timing of the call. I eventually moved on to something else.
Then last night I got a series of e-mails. They came from "Mark Felt." There's of course no way for The Daily Banter to positively confirm that what's contained in these e-mails is completely legitimate, but the photos sent to me certainly appear to show the sign stolen from Grace McDonnell's playground in someone's living room, along with a Chase Kowalski placard that he claims came from the boy's own memorial playground, which is located in Mantoloking, N.J.
A quick warning that some of these images are more than offensive -- they're infuriating. We believe they're necessary, however, to hammer home just how callous and contemptible this person is. And I'm being uncharacteristically restrained in my language.
And here's part of the message that came with the shots. I've edited out a lot of conspiratorial rambling, the rationale -- if you can call it that -- he provides for why he did this. Since I haven't posted every photo he sent, his description may not correspond entirely with the images above. Also, the "sun" panel shown above is the reverse view of the Grace McDonnell "peace sign" panel.
The first two are images of the bolts that I removed when I stole the sign from the Chase Kowalski playground in Mantoloking, New Jersey. Like I said on the phone, I stole his sign first a few weeks before I stole the one in Mystic. I had to take pictures of the bolts connecting the sign to the posts so I could go to home depot and buy the proper tool (once i found out what tool I needed)...
You see images of the Chase Kowalski playground sign sitting in my house. I tried to take pictures of it that provide a sense of atmosphere, angle, texture, shadow, et al that help prove these images aren't photoshopped. The Chase Kowalski sign is identical on both sides so I only provide images of the one side.
After I stole the Chase Kowalski sign I called the police and reported it anonymously. I also called Rebecca Kowalski and told her I stole it because the shooting was a hoax. To this day, and despite the publicity of the Mystic sign being stolen, Mrs. Kowalski has apparently never reported the sign stolen, and it has never been replaced.
And then you'll see the images you most seek: the images of the peace sign I stole from the Mcdonell playground.
Then you see the images of both signs together. These images help prove (I hope) that none of these images are photoshopped. Consult a professional photographer and ask him to analyze whether these images are photoshopped. Hopefully he/she will conclude they have not been; to date I have never used photoshop, ever, and wouldn't know how to if I wanted to.
The final picture is a picture of both signs propped together in the hallway I keep them in, while my dad sleeps on the couch at dawn. A beautiful shot if I do say so, a triumphant image of the achievement of a man who has gone to great lengths to fight for what he believes is right.
He signs it, "Peace to you and yours, Mr Pazienza."
Whoever this person is -- and The Daily Banter is cooperating with the police and other officials as well as independently investigating the e-mail address this came from -- he's everything you would expect from an Alex Jonesian conspiracy theorist: He's a ferocious combination of ignorance and arrogance, convinced of his own intellectual elitism while in reality spouting accusations that are ludicrous at face value and for which he has no proof whatsoever anyway. It's precisely the fact that he's not a raving lunatic, but rather a very methodical and seemingly level-headed one, that makes him so difficult to wrap your head around. He's functional, not some classic schizophrenic who's off his meds and talking to telephone poles about Jesus.
With that in mind, however, it's his functionality that's going to be his undoing. He has a car and used it to drive into the area where Bob Cesca's relative lives, which is apparently monitored heavily by surveillance cameras that can pick out license plates. The place where he chose to have a conversation with me is, again, loaded with internal surveillance -- and I've been able to tell police the exact time he was there talking to me. This guy will be caught, which could, for all I know, be what he wants. Admittedly, it's not as if he shot someone, but the crime he committed -- crimes really, since authorities weren't even aware that a separate panel had been stolen from the Chase Kowalski playground in New Jersey until we informed them -- were staggeringly despicable and so I have no doubt he'll be made to pay dearly for his theft and his harassment of those still mourning the children they lost at Sandy Hook.
This afternoon I spoke to Bill Lavin, the founder of the "Sandy Ground" project which built the memorial playgrounds this person has apparently been vandalizing and stealing from. He said that the signs in the pictures sent to us appear to be legitimate and while he wasn't aware of anything missing from the Chase Kowalski playground, he had a contractor check it out while I was speaking to him and was able to confirm that the Kowalski panel was gone. "You want to forgive someone like this, but it's not easy," he told me. "Mostly, I just want to see him go to jail."
I think that's now all but a certainty.
In the open letter I wrote last week, I called the person who stole from the Grace McDonnell playground and taunted the young girl's mother a coward and challenged him to come forward. He apparently did. Now he gets to pay for it.
Enjoy that knock at the door, buddy.