Accused Sandy Hook Sign Thief Claimed Massacre Didn't Happen, Police Say

Man charged with receiving stolen property; memorial signs were from New Jersey, Connecticut

Two missing Sandy Hook memorial signs have been recovered in Herndon, Virginia -- far from the states from which they were stolen -- and a Virginia man has been charged in the case.

Andrew David Truelove, 28, is being held at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center after Herndon police found the signs in a home where Truelove is renting a room from a family member.

One memorial sign was stolen from a playground in Mantoloking, New Jersey, and the other from Mystic, Connecticut. They were stolen about a month ago.

The signs were dedications to Sandy Hook Elementary School students: 7-year-old Chase Kowalski and 7-year-old Grace McDonnell, who were fatally shot in December 2012.

Police say blogger and reporter Chez Pazienza of The Daily Banter  helped to track down the suspect. Pazienza wrote an open letter asking the thief to come forward, and he received a response, including photographs of the signs in a living room.

"I was really angry and I wanted to see this person go down for this," Pazienza told NBC Connecticut in a Skype interview Friday. "I wasn't just going to let it go."

Truelove may have allied himself with people who believe the Sandy Hook massacre was staged or faked to encourage stricter gun laws, police said at a press conference Friday.

News4's Shomari Stone spoke with Truelove's father who maintained his son's innocence, though he was not interested in sharing any details about the incident.

"[Police] aren't making it up, they're chasing the wrong fella," Alan Truelove said. He showed Stone a photo of a man he claims is the real suspect in the case.

When asked if he or his son believed if the massacre happened, Alan Truelove replied, "Not interested ... not interested in anything you say .... I'm not interested in those events."

"It is my understanding the suspect himself had claimed to be part of this group called the truthers," Herndon Police Chief Maggie DeBoard said during a news conference Friday.

"It's hard to explain the why, because from our perspective it doesn't appear rational, that type of thought process," DeBoard said. "We know Sandy Hook occurred, obviously there are a lot of victims in that case. So I can't explain the why, but we do know that this suspect has a troubled past, he has an extensive criminal history, he has criminal history tied to kids."

DeBoard did not detail Truelove's criminal history, but she said he had been banned from school property in Herndon.

Truelove has been charged with receiving stolen property, a misdemeanor. DeBoard said investigators were considering upgrading the charges to felonies, and that Truelove faces charges of grand larceny in Connecticut and New Jersey.

They found Truelove already in jail on a probation violation, she said.

Truelove was charged after he contacted a reporter, saying that he had the signs, DeBoard said. The reporter contacted authorities in Stonington, Connecticut, who reached out to Herndon Police. After an investigation, authorities obtained a search warrant for Truelove's house in the 400 block of Fillmore Street, and recovered the stolen signs Friday.

"Our main goal here was to get those signs back so they could be placed back on the playgrounds where they belong," DeBoard said.

NBC Connecticut reported earlier this month that, after a 50-pound vinyl peace sign was stolen from a Mystic playground honoring the memory of Grace McDonnell, a man called her mother to tell her that he believed the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax and that her daughter "never existed."

"It's my understanding that ... one of the victim's families of one of these signs was contacted from the suspect at one point letting him know he had the signs," DeBoard said.

"It's very horrifying. I can't imagine the families having to relive this over and over again," she said.

She grew emotional as she discussed the impact of these memorials on the families of victims and on their communities.

"We think about Sandy Hook, we are all affected by Sandy Hook all the time," DeBoard said. "And when you think about that and all the kids who were affected by that it's hard not to get emotional. And one of the things that our investigators talked about was having the honor of being able to take these signs back and hand them over to the families and put them back where they belong. That's most important to us."

Investigators are likely to hand-carry the signs up to the playgrounds next week, she said.

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