The United Way of Western Connecticut said it rejects conspiracy theories claiming it knew about the Dec. 14 Newtown, Conn., school shooting three days in advance and leveraged that knowledge to raise money.
“It’s preposterous,” executive vice president Isabel Almeida told The Daily Caller Tuesday, dismissing what she called a “flawed” Google search result that suggests her organization issued a statement of condolence — and launched a support fund for the victims’ families — on Dec. 11.
That fund has raised more than $6 million, the group reported Jan. 4.
“United Way extends our most sincere condolences and prayers,” that statement read, “to all those families affected by the devastating events in Newtown/Sandy Hook, Connecticut. … Newtown is home. We will stand with the community and everyone affected directly and indirectly by this tragic event as we face the days and weeks ahead.”
The statement “went out the late evening hours of the 14th, probably between the hours of 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.,” Almeida told TheDC.
Asked if the statement existed in any form prior to Dec. 14, she replied that it was “obviously impossible.”
TheDC emailed a Google spokeswoman for comment, but the company has not responded.
A public relations firm contracted by the United Way of Western Connecticut, however, forwarded an email to The Daily Caller from an engineer at Google.
“This is a technical glitch on our end,” the engineer wrote. “[T]he date Google’s search engine first ‘saw’ the page was 12/14/2012 at 6:58pm. (We’re looking into a fix, but it may take some weeks.)”
Meanwhile, another Google search result is adding fuel to the fire. It shows a San Jose, Calif. woman’s private effort to raise money for the Newtown victims’ families. Google’s search result shows that Desaree Juarez’s fundraising page was created Dec. 13, one day before the shooting.
One YouTube user wrapped up both Google glitches into a presentation accusing news outlets, public safety officials and the parents of Newtown victims of a mass conspiracy.
“This thing was all made up. The entire media made it up. They’re all in cahoots. The media, the police, FEMA, the parents — every damn body — they’re all in it. And you know why they’re in it? The money. That’s not the only reason, because they like to do satanic freak-out crap, okay? But the money is one element for sure.”
Almeida called the entire line of argument “offensive.”
The United Way chapter’s Facebook page, Almeida said, was her first indication that something was wrong.
“Shame on you,” read one angry Facebook post. “Dec. 11th even? Days before the event and you have a donation page published and running. Shame, shame.”
“How did the united way know all those kids were gonna be killed 3 days before?” another asked. “[I]t’s a sad day if are [sic] own gov is killing are [sic] children to push there [sic] agendas.”
Other Facebook users asked why the organization had deleted conversations about the topic.
Almeida placed the blame firmly in Google’s lap. “This is an error on Google’s side, and therefore we don’t have an explanation,” she said. “Google is investigating what went wrong on their end.”
But still, aided by conspiracy theorists and a lightning-quick Internet, the idea that the United Way somehow knew about the shooting in advance isn’t going away.
“We are receiving quite a few phone calls here in the office from individuals seeking an explanation,” Almeida said. “It’s aggravating.”