Father of Sandy Hook victim Avielle Richman found dead at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown after apparent suicide
Jeremy Richman, father of Avielle Richman, a victim in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, was found dead at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown, police said. (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)
NEWTOWN 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 Courant Monday. Its sad. Just no words.
Heslin, who said he got to know Richman well after the shooting, said the grief never goes away. Im 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 vowed they would continue Richmans 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 doesnt happen again, he told lawmakers in the January 2013 hearing.
Those who knew Richman said he remained dedicated to the foundations 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. Im just shocked. Im sitting in my car right now crying. The foundation was doing really important work and was doing such good things.
This April 2012 photo provided by the family shows Avielle Richman, center, with her parents Jennifer Hensel and Jeremy Richman in Boston. Avielle was among the 20 children killed in the Dec. 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. (AP)
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 masters in pathobiology.
This month, Richman hosted an event at Edmond Town Hall with a researcher, Bren 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 Universitys 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 arent necessarily comfortable.
Richman said his daughters death changed everything. Its 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 Richmans 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 survivors guilt.
The Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at the 3,200-student school killed 14 students and three staff members and wounded 17 others.
Richmans 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 foundations 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.
When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Avielle, according to The Avielle Foundation website, said she wanted to be an artist…and a spy…oh, and a fairy princess, and a writer…Avielles sense of wonder, inherent in all children, drove her to love the magic of fireflies and all things that glowed.
Avielle also loved school and was fiercely proud to be a part of a community comprised of her classmates and educators, according to the website. She was described as having a strong sense of justice and fairness and a steadfast friend and advocate for anyone she thought in need. 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… youre not gonna see the full impact of that incident until years later, Newtown Police Chief James Viadero said. Were kind of looking at that now and its 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 its 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 theyre not. Now is the time for outreach.
Pat Llodra, Newtowns first selectwoman at the time of the Sandy Hook massacre, was returning from vacation Monday when she learned of Richmans death.
My heart is actually broken for his family, Llodra told The Courant. Its overwhelming and difficult to comprehend.
Llodra said its often impossible to know whats going through the mind of someone who has experienced the kind of loss that Richman had.
Trauma makes us all vulnerable and fragile, she said.
Town officials, some of whom visited Edmond Town Hall Monday morning, were shaken by news of Richmans death.
There are no words to describe the tragic weight of todays 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 dont 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.
When Lorrie Rodrigue, Newtowns superintendent of schools, first heard what had happened Monday, she said she quietly reached out to school administrators to make them aware and put crisis counselors on standby before the story made the news.
Some students in Newtown High School worked with Jeremy Richman as interns, she said.
Its devastating to our entire community, she said. It obviously is something that really deeply saddens everyone who has worked with Jeremy Richman and the Avielle Foundation, the staff and students. Its heartbreaking to everyone here. His work was very important. After a while, this just becomes harder and harder for everyone.
Perhaps its time to step back and reassess the needs of the community, Rodrigue said. Despite all of the resources that have poured into Newtown since the massacre, more may be needed.
We need to make sure we are really mindful and cognizant of the pain everyone has years later, Rodrigue said. It really doesnt go away.
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. Rev. Kristen Provost Switzer said these gathering spaces have grown out of the communitys 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 Richmans 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. Its true that even as were 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.
A woman prays outs Edmond Town Hall in Newtown where Jeremy Richman, father of Sandy Hook shooting victim Avielle Richamn, was found dead of what police say was an apparent suicide. (Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant)
At St. Rose of Lima Church, the death of Richman is being felt acutely. Eight funerals for the 26 people killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School were held at the Roman Catholic parish, which is less than a mile from Edmond Town Hall.
Its a tough day, said Monsignor Robert Weiss, the churchs pastor. I think he was doing such incredible work on behalf of his daughter. Its a shock.
Weiss last saw Richman in May, when the priest did the invocation for the Sandy Hook Ride, in which Richman was part of a group of cyclists who biked from Newtown to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness for gun control reform.
Weiss said its not surprising that a parent would have a guilt complex or consider taking their own life.
Why didnt God take me instead of my child? Weiss said. This grief is very deep in the lives of these families. Its almost too much to endure.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Richmans 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 thats caused and the after-effects.
When asked what Richmans suicide says about the struggle between gun control and Second Amendment rights, Blumenthal replied that its too early to say.
We have no idea as to what precipitated this death, he said. Right now my thoughts and heart are with the family.
The Resiliency Center of Newtown, a nonprofit counseling agency established after the Sandy Hook shooting, offered grief counseling Monday to community members.
With very heavy hearts the RCN staff is with our community, the organization posted on its Facebook page. We are open and here for anyone to gather, holding space for each other.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who has been an outspoken proponent for stricter gun laws since the Newtown shooting, said he was devastated by Richmans death. He said he had just seen Richman in recent weeks.
My god. This is awful, horrible, devastating news. Jeremy was a good friend and an unceasing advocate for better research into the brains violence triggers. He was with me in my office two weeks ago, excited as could be about the Avielle Foundations latest amazing work, Murphy said on social media.
U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, whose district includes Newtown, said she, too, had just met with Richman about his foundations work.
The news of Jeremy Richmans death is heartbreaking. I recently met with Jeremy to learn about the Avielle Foundation, and was struck by how optimistic he was about the progress the foundation was making in understanding brain health. He spoke about how the foundations investments have led to broader study of brain chemistry and violence, Hayes said in a statement.
She echoed others that said Richmans death and the apparent suicide of two students in Parkland, Fla., shows we must do more as a society to help victims of gun violence and their families grieve.
Gov. Ned Lamont joined the others in grieving Richmans death.
Annie and I are heartbroken for the Richman family. Thoughts and prayers just dont feel like enough in times like these. Words cannot even begin to express our sorrow, Lamont said.
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.
If you have suicidal thoughts, please call 2-1-1 in Connecticut or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-. You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
Courant staff writers Dave Altimari and Christine Dempsey contributed to this story.