Monday morning, Jeremy Richman, the father of one of the 20 first graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, was found dead in an apparent suicide, according to Newtown, Conn., police. His death was the third suspected suicide in a week in which the victims were connected to a mass school shooting.
“He was a brokenhearted person, as we all are,” Neil Heslin, whose own son, Jesse, was killed at Sandy Hook, told the Hartford Courant. He added that the grief from losing a child never fully leaves.
Richman became a fierce advocate for mental health care following his daughter’s death, establishing a foundation in her name, committed to “exploring the underpinnings of the brain that lead to violent behaviors,” according to the Avielle Foundation’s website. Just weeks after his daughter’s murder he was at the Connecticut state legislature calling on elected officials to fix what he believed is a broken system for addressing mental health in America. He said, according to the Courant, “We must act to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Richman’s body was found at Edmond Town Hall, where the Avielle Foundation has office space. Many of the officers who responded at the scene were among those who responded to the shooting at Sandy Hook, Lt. Aaron Bahamonde of the Newtown Police Department told The New York Times. “This is devastating to our community. I can’t stress that enough,” he said.
In addition to his advocacy work running the Avielle Foundation, Richman and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, were one of the families that sued Alex Jones, of the radio show and website Infowars, who claimed the shooting was a hoax.
The lawsuit alleges that Jones promoted “abusive and outrageous false statements in which Jones and the other defendants have developed, amplified and perpetuated claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged and that the 26 families who lost loved ones that day are paid actors who faked their relatives’ deaths.”
Just last week, Richman spoke at Florida Atlantic University’s 2019 Violence Summit, and, according to the Courant, worked with Sandy Hook Promise, another organization founded after the shooting to combat gun violence.
“He had such a clear purpose of what he wanted to do to honor his daughter,” a family member of a Sandy Hook victim who requested anonymity, told the Courant.
Richman’s death comes just after Parkland, Fla., residents are once again grieving, this time following two apparent suicides of two students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the site of a horrific school shooting in 2018.
One student apparently took his own life on Saturday. He is a minor, and according to The New York Times, his name has not yet been released. Sydney Aiello, 19, committed suicide last weekend. Her mother, Cara, told a local CBS affiliate that her daughter had received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, and was struggling with survivors’ guilt following the shooting, in which one of her closest friends, Meadow Pollack, was killed.
The pain from both incidents are certain to reverberate for a long time. “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,” police Chief James Viadero told the Courant.
Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina died at Parkland, told the Times, regarding the suicides, “What we feared could happen is happening.”
He alluded to the two post-Parkland suicides in a Twitter post Saturday night, writing, 17+2 (in reference to the 17 Parkland deaths) accompanied by a broken heart emoji.
If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Additional resources are available at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.