Fact check: Fabricated story about Uvalde shooting and gun control went viral

The claim: A representative of Gov. Greg Abbott offered to pay the family of a Uvalde victim to oppose gun restrictions

An anonymous Twitter account claiming to be the uncle of a victim of the Uvalde school shooting garnered the sympathy and outrage from tens of thousands of social media users before online sleuths and journalists exposed it as a fraud.

In a Twitter thread posted two days after the May 24 massacre, the anonymous account, @mycancerjourne3, wrote that a representative of Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, offered to pay the grieving family to publicly oppose restrictive firearms policies.

The user alleged an Abbott representative followed the family home after they identified his nephew's body and "informed us he (was) willing to pay us to stand with the Gov and say we don't need stronger gun laws."

"(He) said that if we speak about this conversation we will be facing charges and possibly worse," the thread continued. "We responded with (expletive) you, try me and find out. Then we were told people get hurt and disappear all the time. (Expletive) Greg Abbott and this harassment while we all mourn."

More than 36,000 users retweeted the post, with some apparently taking it seriously and others showing skepticism. Many liked a reply tweet from Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, in which he offered help to the man, though he later noted the allegation was anonymous and "shouldn’t be treated as true unless vetted and verified."

While the tweet is now deleted, it continues to circulate on platforms other than Twitter, including in screenshots posted to Facebook and Instagram.

"So many alarming stories are coming out about the #Uvalde shooting & the victims families (sic)," reads a May 26 Instagram post from The Jasmine Brand that more than 17,500 users liked. It was punctuated with an emoji of a broken heart.

But the story was fabricated, the owner of the Twitter account that posted it told USA TODAY in a phone interview. 

Abbott's press secretary, Renea Eze, also repudiated the claims to USA TODAY.

"This did not happen and would never be allowed to happen," Eze wrote in an email.

Follow us on Facebook! Like our page to get updates throughout the day on our latest debunks

USA TODAY reached out to The Jasmine Brand for comment.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Story posted online was fabricated

Doubts about the validity of the story in the tweet arose quickly, after journalists such as Buzzfeed producer Grace Spelman posted that @mycancerjourne3 had previously claimed to have a nephew killed in a July 2021 tweet, saying a sheriff in the state of Washington shot and killed the "young vet." 

Nonetheless, several hours after the original tweet went up, the account promised to release a recording of the exchange from a home security system. That video never surfaced.

USA TODAY reached out to Jason Nauertz, a man from Spokane, Washington whose Facebook profile was associated with the Twitter account @mycancerjourne3.

In a phone interview on May 31, a man who identified himself as Nauertz told USA TODAY that the account was his. He denied that the story in the tweets was true, noting that he is from Washington State and has no relatives in Texas.

"In fact, I'm pro-Second Amendment, so it makes no sense," he said. 

Nauertz claimed that a hacker had made up the story and posted the tweets, which USA TODAY could not confirm. He said he had hired a lawyer to press charges against the person responsible, though he did not name the lawyer. USA TODAY could not verify whether it was Nauertz who answered the phone, or someone else with access to the phone number or email address listed in public records for Nauertz.

The assertions from Nauertz roughly match an early report from The Daily Beast, which said the owner of the account had told the outlet the tweets had been posted by a hacker and that he had retained a lawyer. The outlet didn't name the man. 

Fact check:No evidence Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has a Twitter template for mass shootings

None of the relatives of Uvalde shooting victims have claimed to have a similar exchange with an Abbott representative, and no other supporting evidence has emerged.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that a representative of Gov. Greg Abbott offered to pay the family of a Uvalde victim to oppose gun restrictions. There is no evidence to support this claim, and a man who identified himself as the owner of the Twitter account told USA TODAY in a phone interview that the story was fabricated. Abbott has also denied the claim.

Our fact-check sources:

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.