March 25-- NEWTOWN, Conn.-Jeremy Richman, who championed the push for research into how brain health is tied to violence after his daughter, Avielle, and 19 other first-grade students and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was found dead Monday of an apparent suicide at his Main Street office building, not far from the site of the 2012 massacre, police said.
Police said the death of Richman, 49, at Edmond Town Hall, appears to be a suicide. The office of the chief state medical examiner is expected to do an autopsy Tuesday.
Richman was found by electricians about 7 a.m., police said. His death was the third apparent suicide in a week in which the victim was tied to a mass shooting at a U.S. school.
"He was a brokenhearted person, as we all are," Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was killed at Sandy Hook, told The Hartford Courant Monday. "It's sad. Just no words."
Heslin, who said he got to know Richman well after the shooting, said the grief never goes away. "I'm not suicidal, but I can definitely see how some people would be that way with the traumatic loss. I know Jeremy struggled."
Richman, a neuroscientist, led the charge on mental health issues with his wife, Jennifer Hensel, in the wake of the shooting. He had an office for the Avielle Foundation at Edmond Town Hall where he and others pushed for brain research into the origins of violent behavior.
"Our hearts are shattered, and our heads are struggling to comprehend. Jeremy was a champion father, husband, neuroscientist and, for the past seven years, a crusader on a mission to help uncover the neurological underpinnings of violence through The Avielle Foundation, which he and his wife founded after the death of their daughter, Avielle, at Sandy Hook Elementary School," the foundation said in a statement Monday.
Richman is survived by his wife and two children, born after the Sandy Hook shooting.
"Jeremy was deeply devoted to supporting research into brain abnormalities that are linked to abnormal behavior and to promoting brain health. Tragically, his death speaks to how insidious and formidable a challenge brain health can be and how critical it is for all of us to seek help for ourselves, our loved ones and anyone who we suspect may be in need," the foundation said.
The foundation vowed they would continue Richman's work "because, as Jeremy would say, we have to."
While most Sandy Hook families focused on gun law reform after the deadly shooting weeks after the tragedy, Richman was among the first to go to the Connecticut state Legislature calling for fixing a broken mental health care system and removing the stigma from psychiatric illness.
"We must act to ensure this doesn't happen again," he told lawmakers in the January 2013 hearing.
Those who knew Richman said he remained dedicated to the foundation's mission before his death.
"He had such a clear purpose of what he wanted to do to honor his daughter," said a family member of one of the Sandy Hook shooting victims, who asked not to be identified. "I'm just shocked. I'm sitting in my car right now crying. The foundation was doing really important work and was doing such good things."
Richman left his job as a researcher at the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim to dedicate himself to the foundation. Richman had a doctorate with experience in neuroscience and neuropsychopharmacology and Hensel is a multidisciplinary scientist with a master's in pathobiology.
This month, Richman hosted an event at Edmond Town Hall with a researcher, Brene Brown, who focuses on vulnerability and courage. It was one of a number of events he had organized. In the large crowd on March 5 were other families of Sandy Hook shooting victims.
Richman spoke last week at Florida Atlantic University's 2019 Violence Summit. In a Facebook interview from the school, he talked about how people can "change the world" with a deeper understanding of violence and aggressive behavior.
He urged support for neuroscience research and for people to engage with others and have "conversations that aren't necessarily comfortable."
Richman said his daughter's death "changed everything. It's such a shock to the system, that you just feel displaced, like the world is spinning and you are not and you are just going to get thrown off of it. We came to the idea that we were going to create a foundation in her honor."
Richman, talking optimistically, spoke of the importance of neuroscience research into violence. "We really need to seek out and understand what it means to be humane."
Richman was also involved with Sandy Hook Promise, another foundation that started in the wake of the Newtown shooting. The organization, and its founding members, Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, who had children killed in the shooting, said they would not comment Monday on Richman's death.
In the past week, two Parkland, Fla., school shooting survivors died from apparent suicides, spurring immediate calls for increased mental health resources for those impacted by these shootings.
Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky said Monday that community leaders, government officials, parents, police and others held an emergency meeting Sunday after a second Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student apparently killed himself over the weekend. That came a week after a recent graduate killed herself after her family said she suffered from survivor's guilt.
The Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at the 3,200-student school killed 14 students and three staff members and wounded 17 others.
Richman's daughter was one of the 20 first-grade students killed when Adam Lanza opened fire in the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Six educators were also killed.
Her parents on the foundation's website said Avielle had a long list of hobbies, including soccer, horseback riding, fishing, art, hiking, cooking, Barbies, and playing as "Bombs Galore," the superhero persona she created. She loved fireflies and was described as a "connoisseur of parks and playgrounds."
The website said the foundation was formed to fund research "exploring the underpinnings of the brain that lead to violent behaviors, and to foster the engagement of communities to apply these insights and build compassion."
Since the Sandy Hook massacre, there have been hundreds of mass shootings across the country.
Officials have been concerned the toll of the Sandy Hook shooting might take years to be fully felt.
"Mental health professionals have told us the impact of Sandy Hook ... you're not gonna see the full impact of that incident until years later," Newtown Police Chief James Viadero said. "We're kind of looking at that now and it's come to fruition."
When reached by the Courant Monday, former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he worries that the spate of recent suicides tied to mass shootings will lead others to make the same choice.
"We know it's a challenge," Malloy said. "These are long-term issues for people to deal with. The more there are, the more acceptable they seem to be, which of course they're not. Now is the time for outreach."
(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
Town officials, some of whom visited Edmond Town Hall Monday morning, were shaken by news of Richman's death.
"There are no words to describe the tragic weight of today's news. Jeremy Richman was a loving husband, father and friend to many. I am proud to say he was my friend," said Newtown First Selectman Daniel Rosenthal in a statement. "I don't want to speculate as to why Jeremy took his life, except to say none of us can fathom the enormity of loss he carried with him after the death of his beautiful daughter, Avielle."
(END OPTIONAL TRIM)
Throughout Newtown Monday, residents in a town so used to grieving, looked for places to seek solace, including at the sanctuary of Newtown Congregational Church, on the hill behind the old Meeting House. The Rev. Kristen Provost Switzer said these gathering spaces have grown out of the community's need for healing, reflection and peace, a need that changes but never goes away due to the complicated nature of grief and trauma.
Now in the wake of Richman's death, she said, Newtown will continue to show the world its capacity for resilience and compassion.
"I think we are in uncharted waters, and I think this is a time we can rely on community to help us navigate these waters," Switzer said. "It's true that even as we're hurting deeply as a community right now, and have been for quite a while, at least from a faith perspective, we know that God delights in community and that our communities make us stronger."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Richman's loss shows how the pain of a tragedy like the Sandy Hook shooting can persist.
"My heart breaks for this family, which has already endured so much," Blumenthal said Monday, minutes after leaving a forum in New Britain on gun violence in schools. "This is a gut punch. I came to know his family after Sandy Hook, I attended the funeral. My prayers go out to them. The cascading harm done by that savage, unspeakable act reminds us of the trauma that's caused-and the after-effects."
A GoFundMe campaign to raise donations for the Avielle Foundation launched Monday night with a $100,000 starting donation from investor Ron Conway, who has worked previously with Sandy Hook Promise.
(Courant staff writers Dave Altimari and Christine Dempsey contributed to this story.)
(c)2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.